How natural or innate-like lymphocytes generate the capacity to produce IL-4 and other cytokines characteristic of type 2 immunity remains unknown. Invariant natural killer T (iNKT) cells differentiate in the thymus into NKT1, NKT2, and NKT17 subsets, similar to mature, peripheral CD4+ T helper cells. The mechanism for this differentiation was not fully understood. Here, we show that NKT2 cells required higher and prolonged calcium (Ca2+ ) signals and continuing activity of the calcium release-activated calcium (CRAC) channel, than their NKT1 counterparts. The sustained Ca2+ entry via CRAC pathway in NKT2 cells was apparently mediated by ORAI and controlled in part by the large mitochondrial Ca2+ uptake. Unique properties of mitochondria in NKT2 cells, including high activity of oxidative phosphorylation, may regulate mitochondrial Ca2+ buffering in NKT2 cells. In addition, the low Ca2+ extrusion rate may also contribute to the higher Ca2+ level in NKT2 cells. Altogether, we identified ORAI-dependent Ca2+ signaling connected with mitochondria and cellular metabolism, as a central regulatory pathway for the differentiation of NKT2 cells.
Keywords: T-cell differentiation; calcium signaling; iNKT cells; metabolism; mitochondria.
© 2021 The Authors.