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Invariant natural killer T (iNKT) cells are a small subset of lymphocytes that recognize glycolipid antigens in the context of CD1d and consequently produce large quantities of pro-inflammatory and/or anti-inflammatory cytokines. Several transmembrane glycoproteins have been implicated in the co-stimulation of iNKT cell responses. However, whether glycosylphosphatidylinositol (GPI)-anchored proteins can function in this capacity is not known. Here, we demonstrate that antibody-mediated cross-linking of the prototype mouse GPI-anchored protein Thy-1 (CD90) on the surface of a double-negative (CD4⁻CD8⁻) iNKT cell line leads to cytokine production at both the mRNA and protein levels. In addition, Thy-1 triggering enhanced cytokine secretion by iNKT cells that were concomitantly stimulated with α-galactosylceramide (αGC), consistent with a co-stimulatory role for Thy-1 in iNKT cell activation. This was also evident when a CD4+ mouse iNKT cell line or primary hepatic NKT cells were stimulated with αGC and/or anti-Thy-1 antibody. Cross-linking Ly-6A/E, another GPI-anchored protein, could also boost cytokine secretion by αGC-stimulated iNKT cells, suggesting that the observed effects reflect a general property of GPI-anchored proteins. To extend these results from mouse to human cells, we focused on CD55, a GPI-anchored protein that, unlike Thy-1, is expressed on human iNKT cells. Cross-linking CD55 augmented αGC-induced iNKT cell responses as judged by more vigorous proliferation and higher CD69 expression. Collectively, these findings demonstrate for the first time that GPI-anchored proteins are able to co-stimulate CD1d-restricted, glycolipid-reactive iNKT cells in both mice and humans.
© 2010 The Authors. Immunology © 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.