Role of Gamma Delta T Lymphocytes in Immune Response in Humans and Mice

Crit Rev Immunol. 1998;18(4):327-57. doi: 10.1615/critrevimmunol.v18.i4.30.


T lymphocytes recognize antigen through the T cell receptor. T cells expressing the gamma delta T cell receptor have been found in many species. Whereas murine alpha beta T cells are concentrated in the lymphoid organs, gamma delta T cells represent only a minor population in the adult thymus and peripheral lymphoid organs (less than 5% of the population). However, murine gamma delta cells predominate in epidermis, in epithelial layers of small intestine, in lung, and in female reproductive organs. In contrast, human gamma delta cells predominate in lymphoid organs. Despite extensive progress in the molecular characterization of the gamma delta T cell receptor and its genes, the physiological role of gamma delta T cells has remained elusive for many years. It is becoming now clear that, in contrast to alpha beta cells that recognize peptide/MHC complexes, gamma delta T cells appear to recognize unprocessed proteic antigens and, in humans, also a class of widely represented nonproteic antigens containing critical phosphate moieties. Similarly, it is now known that gamma delta cells can perform a vast array of immune effector functions and appear to play important roles in antimicrobial immunity as well as in chronic inflammatory reactions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigens / immunology
  • Communicable Diseases / immunology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / immunology
  • Mice
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell, gamma-delta / genetics
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell, gamma-delta / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology*


  • Antigens
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell, gamma-delta