Key Points

  • Identification of clinically relevant human iNKT cell phenotypes with distinct effector functions.

  • Elucidating dominant iNKTcell heterogeneity in GVHD and healthy reconstituted patients after allo-HSCT and in autoimmunity.

Human invariant natural killer T cells (iNKTs) are a rare innate-like lymphocyte population that recognize glycolipids presented on CD1d. Studies in mice have shown that these cells are heterogenous and capable of enacting diverse functions, and the composition of iNKT subsets can alter disease outcomes. In contrast, far less is known about how heterogeneity in human iNKTs relates to disease. To address this, we use a high-dimensional, data-driven approach to devise a framework to parse human iNKT heterogeneity. Our data revealed novel and previously described iNKT phenotypes with distinct functions. In particular, we found two phenotypes of interest: 1) a population with Th1 function that was increased with iNKT activation characterized by HLA-II+CD161- expression, and 2) a population with enhanced cytotoxic function characterized by CD4-CD94+ expression. These populations, respectively, correlate with acute graft-versus-host disease after allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation and with new onset type 1 diabetes. Our study identifies human iNKT phenotypes associated with human disease that could aid in the development of biomarkers or therapeutics targeting iNKTs.

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