Natural killer T (NKT) cells are CD1d-restricted, lipid antigen-reactive T cells with powerful immunoregulatory potential. The prototypic antigen for NKT cells is a marine sponge-derived glycolipid, α-galactosylceramide (α-GalCer), but this is not normally encountered in the mammalian environment. Thus, there is great interest in the identification of more physiological stimuli for NKT cells, and numerous studies have shown that NKT cells are capable of responding to a range of microbial lipid-based antigens. Two new studies expand our understanding of environmental NKT cell stimuli, with one showing that CD1d-restricted NKT cell antigens are present within common house dust extract (HDE), whereas the other shows that NKT cells can respond to innate stimuli irrespective of the presence of foreign microbial antigens. Collectively, these two investigations indicate that NKT cells are far more likely to encounter foreign antigens, or innate activating signals, than previously recognized, suggesting a more central role for these cells in the immune system.
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