Small molecules derived from symbiotic microbiota critically contribute to intestinal immune maturation and regulation1. However, little is known about the molecular mechanisms that control immune development in the host-microbiota environment. Here, using a targeted lipidomic analysis and synthetic approach, we carried out a multifaceted investigation of immunomodulatory α-galactosylceramides from the human symbiont Bacteroides fragilis (BfaGCs). The characteristic terminal branching of BfaGCs is the result of incorporation of branched-chain amino acids taken up in the host gut by B. fragilis. A B. fragilis knockout strain that cannot metabolize branched-chain amino acids showed reduced branching in BfaGCs, and mice monocolonized with this mutant strain had impaired colonic natural killer T (NKT) cell regulation, implying structure-specific immunomodulatory activity. The sphinganine chain branching of BfaGCs is a critical determinant of NKT cell activation, which induces specific immunomodulatory gene expression signatures and effector functions. Co-crystal structure and affinity analyses of CD1d-BfaGC-NKT cell receptor complexes confirmed the interaction of BfaGCs as CD1d-restricted ligands. We present a structural and molecular-level paradigm of immunomodulatory control by interactions of endobiotic metabolites with diet, microbiota and the immune system.
© 2021. The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited.