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Invariant natural killer T cells have a distinct developmental pathway from conventional αβ T cells. Here we demonstrate that the transcriptional repressor NKAP is required for invariant natural killer T cell but not conventional T cell development. In CD4-cre NKAP conditional knockout mice, invariant natural killer T cell development is blocked at the double-positive stage. This cell-intrinsic block is not due to decreased survival or failure to rearrange the invariant Vα14-Jα18 T cell receptor-α chain, but is rescued by overexpression of a rec-Vα14-Jα18 transgene at the double-positive stage, thus defining a role for NKAP in selection into the invariant natural killer T cell lineage. Importantly, deletion of the NKAP-associated protein histone deacetylase 3 causes a similar block in the invariant natural killer T cell development, indicating that NKAP and histone deacetylase 3 functionally interact to control invariant natural killer T cell development.
Although deficiencies in the NKT cell population have been observed in multiple sclerosis and mouse strains susceptible to experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), little is known about the function of these cells in CNS autoimmunity. In this work we report that TCR Valpha14-Jalpha281 transgenic nonobese diabetic mice, which are enriched in CD1d-restricted NKT cells, are protected from EAE. The protection is associated with a striking inhibition of Ag-specific IFN-gamma production in the spleen, implying modulation of the encephalitogenic Th1 response. This modulation is independent of IL-4 because IL-4-deficient Valpha14-Jalpha281 mice are still protected against EAE and independent of NKT cell-driven Th1 to Th2 deviation, because no increased autoantigen-specific Th2 response was observed in immunized Valpha14-Jalpha281 transgenic mice. Our findings indicate that enrichment and/or stimulation of CD1d-dependent NKT cells may be used as a novel strategy to treat CNS autoimmunity.
The analysis of T cell receptor alpha (TCR alpha) chains in mice transgenic for a TCR beta chain has allowed us to demonstrate a central role for self-peptides in the positive intrathymic selection of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II-restricted T cells. Analysis of specific V alpha-J alpha joins in mature CD4+ TCRhigh thymocytes and in peripheral CD4+ T cells revealed a limitation in amino-acid sequences. By analysis of immature thymocytes, we could show that this limited repertoire was selected from a more diverse repertoire. By analysis of the same beta chain-transgenic mice bred to H-2Ma-deficient mice that express one or a very limited number of peptides, we could demonstrate that the V alpha-J alpha join repertoire was now altered and much more limited. Together, these data provide molecular and genetic evidence that the intrathymic positive selection of the TCR repertoire is critically affected by self-peptides presented by MHC class II molecules, most likely on thymic cortical epithelial cells.