Invariant natural killer T cells regulate anti-tumor immunity by controlling the population of dendritic cells in tumor and draining lymph nodes

October 14, 2014


Invariant natural killer T (iNKT) cells are CD1d-restricted T cells, which respond rapidly to antigen recognition and promote development of anti-tumor immunity in many tumor models. Surprisingly, we previously found that mice deficient in iNKT cells developed spontaneous CD8+ T cells responses partially effective at inhibiting metastases in mice bearing the 4T1 mammary carcinoma, and showed a markedly improved response to treatment with local radiotherapy and anti-CTLA-4 antibody compared to wild type (WT) mice.


To understand the mechanisms of the immunosuppressive function of iNKT cells, dendritic cells (DCs) were analyzed by immunohistochemistry and flow cytometry in WT and iNKT-deficient (iNKT−/−) mice. The effects of antibody-mediated blockade of CD1d on DC number and phenotype, priming of anti-tumor T cells, and tumor response to treatment with local radiotherapy and anti-CTLA-4 antibody were evaluated. To determine if the improved response to treatment in the absence of iNKT cells was independent from the immunotherapy employed, 4T1-tumor bearing WT and iNKT−/− mice were treated with local radiotherapy in combination with antibody-mediated CD137 co-stimulation.


DCs in 4T1 tumors and tumor-draining lymph nodes but not distant lymph nodes were significantly reduced in WT mice compared to iNKT−/− mice (p < 0.05), suggesting the selective elimination of DCs cross-presenting tumor-associated antigens by iNKT cells. Consistently, priming of T cells to a tumor-specific CD8 T cell epitope in mice treated with radiotherapy and anti-CTLA-4 or anti-CD137 was markedly enhanced in iNKT−/− compared to WT mice. CD1d blockade restored the number of DC in WT mice, improved T cell priming in draining lymph nodes and significantly enhanced response to treatment.


Here we describe a novel mechanism of tumor immune escape mediated by iNKT cells that limit priming of anti-tumor T cells by controlling DC in tumors and draining lymph nodes. These results have important implications for the design of immunotherapies targeting iNKT cells.

Karsten A Pilones, Joseph Aryankalayil, James S Babb & Sandra Demaria.

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