Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic inflammatory disease that causes demyelination of neurons in the central nervous system. Traditional therapies for MS have involved anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive drugs with significant side effects that often only provide short-term relief. A more desirable outcome of immunotherapy would be to protect against disease before its clinical manifestation or to halt disease after its initiation. One attractive approach to accomplish this goal would be to restore tolerance by targeting immunoregulatory cell networks. Although much of the work in this area has focused on CD4(+) Foxp3(+) regulatory T cells, other studies have investigated natural killer T (NKT) cells, a subset of T cells that recognizes glycolipid antigens in the context of the CD1d glycoprotein. Studies with human MS patients have revealed alterations in the numbers and functions of NKT cells, which have been partially supported by studies with the experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis model of MS. Additional studies have shown that activation of NKT cells with synthetic lipid antigens can, at least under certain experimental conditions, protect mice against the development of MS-like disease. Although mechanisms of this protection remain to be fully investigated, current evidence suggests that it involves interactions with other immunoregulatory cell types such as regulatory T cells and immunosuppressive myeloid cells. These studies have provided a strong foundation for the rational design of NKT-cell-based immunotherapies for MS that induce tolerance while sparing overall immune function. Nevertheless, additional pre-clinical and clinical studies will be required to bring this goal to fruition.
© 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.