Natural killer T cells (NKT cells) are a subset of T cells. They regulate a wide range of diseases including infection, tumor growth, and autoimmune diseases, through recognizing glycolipid antigens in the context of CD1d. An understanding of the scope of glycolipid antigens would facilitate use of this cell type in controlling immune responses. Till today, a lysosomal glycolipid, isoglobotrihexosylceramide (iGb3), is the only natural glycolipid that has been found to be recognized by both human and mouse NKT cells. To elucidate the molecular basis of this specific recognition, iGb3 variants were designed and prepared: i) replacement of the C26 acyl chain with shortened acyl chains; ii) replacement of the distal galactose with glucose and mannose; iii) replacement of the intermediate galactose with glucose; iv) replacement of the proximal glucose with galactose. Among these glycolipids, the iGb3 variants with shortened acyl chains are potent stimulators of NKT cells. The iGb3 variant with intermediate glucose also showed the ability to stimulate NKT cells, but this finding needs to be verified. Our findings support the specific recognition of iGb3 by NKT cells. The search for other natural glycolipid antigens focuses on glycolipids that are isolated from bacteria and parasites. Recently, glycosphingolipids (GSL-1, -3, and -4) isolated from the sphingomonodaceae family of bacteria were characterized. GSL-1 has been shown to be a potent stimulator of NKT cells. Moreover, it has been reported that GSL-4 is a stimulator as well. To verify the structures and stimulatory properties of GSLs, GSL-1 to -4 were prepared and tested for their abilities to stimulate NKT cells. The result that only GSL-1 can stimulate NKT cells suggests that synthesis of these higher order GSLs would be an immune evasion mechanism. Neutral glycosphingolipids from sheep-derived F. hepatica liver flukes, a causative agent of fascioliasis, were isolated and characterized. Their structures are closely related to iGb3. Among these glycolipids, neo-iGb4s could be truncated to iGb3 in the lysosome and thus stimulate NKT cells. To test this hypothesis, these glycosphingolipids were prepared and tested. None of these synthetic glycolipids stimulates NKT cells, which suggests that the secretion of these glycolipids by F. hepatica could be the result of the parasite-immune-evasion mechanism.



College and Department

Physical and Mathematical Sciences; Chemistry and Biochemistry



Date Submitted


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NKT cell, Glycolipid, Antigen, iGb3, GSL, neo-iGb3