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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Spontaneous focal activation of invariant natural killer T (iNKT) cells in mouse liver and kidney

Jia Zeng12 and Jonathan C Howard1*

Author Affiliations

1 Institute for Genetics, University of Cologne, Zuelpicher Strasse 47a, 50674 Cologne, Germany

2 Section of Experimental Therapeutics, Leeds Institute of Molecular Medicine, Level 7, Wellcome Trust Brenner Building, St James's University Hospital, Leeds LS9 7TF, UK

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BMC Biology 2010, 8:142  doi:10.1186/1741-7007-8-142

Published: 30 November 2010



Invariant natural killer T (iNKT) cells differ from other T cells by their hyperactive effector T-cell status, in addition to the expression of NK lineage receptors and semi-invariant T-cell receptors. It is generally agreed that the immune phenotype of iNKT cells is maintained by repeated activation in peripheral tissues although no explicit evidence for such iNKT cell activity in vivo has so far been reported.


We used an interferon (IFN)-γ-inducible cytoplasmic protein, Irga6, as a histological marker for local IFN-γ production. Irga6 was intensely expressed in small foci of liver parenchymal cells and kidney tubular epithelium. Focal Irga6 expression was unaffected by germ-free status or loss of TLR signalling and was totally dependent on IFN-γ secreted by T cells in the centres of expression foci. These were shown to be iNKT cells by diagnostic T cell receptor usage and their activity was lost in both CD1 d and Jα-deficient mice.


This is the first report that supplies direct evidence for explicit activation events of NKT cells in vivo and raises issues about the triggering mechanism and consequences for immune functions in liver and kidney.