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Logo of nihpaAbout Author manuscriptsSubmit a manuscriptHHS Public Access; Author Manuscript; Accepted for publication in peer reviewed journal;
J Immunol. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2010 August 1.
Published in final edited form as:
PMCID: PMC2839504

Distinct requirements for CD1d intracellular transport for development of Vα14 iNKT cells1


The positive selection of Vα14 invariant (i)NKT cells in mice requires CD1dmediated antigen presentation by CD4+ CD8+ thymocytes. Maturation of newly selected iNKT cells continues in the periphery also involves CD1d expression. CD1d molecules acquire antigens for presentation in endosomal compartments, to which CD1d molecules have access through an intrinsic CD1d-encoded tyrosine motif and by association with the Class II major histocompatibility complex (MHC) chaperone, invariant chain (Ii). We here report the generation of mice in which all CD1d is replaced by CD1d-enhanced yellow fluorescent fusion protein (EYFP). CD1d-EYFP molecules are stable, present lipid antigens and have near normal subcellular distribution. CD1d-EYFP molecules mediated positive selection of Vα14 iNKT cell precursors at decreased efficiency, caused a delay in their terminal maturation, and did not invoke Vα14 iNKT cell effector function as wild-type CD1d could. Using these mice, we show that the intrinsic CD1d-encoded sorting motif mediates thymic selection and activation of Vα14 iNKT cells by professional APCs, while for peripheral terminal differentiation the intrinsic CD1d sorting motif is dispensable.

Keywords: CD1d, intracellular trafficking, mouse, Vα14 invariant NKT cells


Antigen presentation via CD1 molecules is important in the protection against viral and bacterial pathogens, against autoimmune diseases and for effective development of anti-tumor responses (1-3). CD1 molecules are assembled in the ER from CD1 heavy chain, beta2-microglobulin (β2m) and endogenous lipids. Incorporated lipids are thought to stabilize the CD1/β2m complexes until exchange for antigenic lipids is accomplished, analogous to the role of invariant chain-derived peptide in Class II MHC assembly (4-6). Lipid-loaded CD1 arrives at the plasma membrane within 30 minutes after assembly and is rapidly introduced into the endocytic pathway, mediated by a tyrosine-based sorting motif present in the CD1 cytosolic tail or through interaction with invariant chain/Class II MHC complexes (7-9). Recycling through the endocytic pathway from the cell surface results in exchange of lipid antigens, as CD1 molecules transit back and forth between the plasma membrane and lysosomes.

CD1d controls the development and function of a subset of strictly thymus-derived lymphocytes called NKT cells. Among the CD1d-restricted NKT cells are those that express a relatively invariant (i) TCR alpha chain (Vα14-Jα18 in mice; Vα24-Jα18 in humans) coupled with a restricted subset of TCR beta chains (Vβ8.2, Vβ7 and Vβ2 in mice, and Vβ11 in humans), and those that express diverse TCRs. These α-galactosylceramide (αGalCer)–reactive Vα14 iNKT cells constitute most of the NK1.1+ T cell population in the spleen and represent >80% of the NK1.1+ T cells in the thymus and liver (10, 11). The development of NKT cell precursors diverges from that of mainstream thymocytes at the CD4+ CD8+ double-positive (DP) stage (12-16). Upon random rearrangement and expression of the canonical Vα14 chain coupled with a restricted TCR β receptor these DP thymocytes can be positively selected on neighboring CD1d-expressing CD4+ CD8+ cortical thymocytes (17-20). Such positively selected Vα14 iNKT cell precursors are prompted to mature following a sequence from CD24+ CD44low NK1.1 via CD24 CD44low NK1.1 and CD24CD44+ NK1.1 to CD24 CD44+ NK1.1+ (12, 15, 16, 21, 22). Studies have shown that the periphery is primarily seeded with immature CD44+ NK1.1+ Vα14 iNKT cells, which eventually mature outside the thymus (12, 16). At the final maturation step NK1.1 and other NK lineage receptors (such as Ly49G2, Ly49C, Ly49I, CD94, NKG2D, Ly6C and 2B4) are expressed (12, 15, 16, 21, 22). The transition from NK1.1 to NK1.1+ Vα14 iNKT cells is important for terminal differentiation of iNKT cells and requires the presence of CD1d in the periphery (20, 23). A developmental block at this stage is linked to major deficiencies in Vα14 iNKT cell function, as for example in diabetes-prone NOD mice in which selective deficiency of NK1.1+ Vα14 iNKT cells predisposes to onset of autoimmune diabetes (24, 25).

Peripheral iNKT cell maturation involves professional APCs, in which CD1d endocytosis may occur via the CD1d intrinsic tyrosine motif or via association with invariant chain (Ii). While Vα14 iNKT cells fully depend on an intact CD1d cytosolic tail for self-antigen recognition during thymic selection (9, 26), in the periphery, Vα14 iNKT cells are exposed to CD1d-positive cells that express invariant chain (i.e., professional APCs, including dendritic cells [DCs]), and cells that do not express invariant chain, in non-professional APCs such as peripheral T cells. Strong reactivity of iNKT cells for CD1d/self-glycolipid complexes results in their removal from the iNKT cell repertoire, as was shown using transgenic mice that overexpress CD1d and in fetal thymic organ cultures containing the high affinity ligand αGalCer (27, 28). In those experiments the CD1d endosomal trafficking requirements for peripheral maturation could not be judged because post-selection thymocytes did not survive. Mutant mice in which CD1d is expressed only on cortical thymocytes (driven by the Lck promotor) and professional APCs (driven by the I-Eα promotor) develop Vα14 iNKT cells that undergo normal selection and terminal differentiation (20). In those mice, post-selection maturation of iNKT cells in the periphery could be contributed by either CD1d-tail-mediated endocytosis or Ii-assisted endocytosis. We generated a new mouse model in which all CD1d is expressed as CD1d-EYFP fusion proteins. CD1d-EYFP molecules exhibit normal subcellular distribution and CD1d-EYFP molecules can support development of Vα14 iNKT cells, albeit at a reduced rate. Using these mice we clarified the roles that the CD1d-intrinsic sorting motif plays in CD1d-mediated positive selection, post-selection terminal maturation and stimulation of matured Vα14 iNKT cells.

Materials and Methods


Six-to eight-week old mice on C57 Bl/6 background were used throughout the study. Wild-type mice were purchased from The Jackson Laboratory (Bar Harbor, ME, USA). CD1d-deficient mice were described previously (32). CD1d-EYFP/EYFP mice were generated using homologous recombination in embryonic stem cells (Bruce 4 line). The genomic sequence encoding exons 1-6 and part of the 3′ untranslated region were used as homologous regions. A linker sequence between exon 6 and EYFP was inserted using the following primer: ACC GGT CCT CCT CCA GCA GGA CTC CTG GGA CAG CCG GTC GCC ACC. For mixed bone-marrow chimeras, 6-week old CD1d−/−hosts were subjected to two consecutive doses of 600 Rads irradiation with 2 hours in between. Within 8 hours after the second irradiation, irradiated mice were injected retro-orbitally with 1×107 bone marrow cells isolated from femurs of donor mice (1:1 mix of CD45.1 CD1d−/−: CD45.2 CD1d+/+ or CD45.1 CD1d−/−: CD45.2 CD1d-EYFP/EYFP). All chimeras showed a ratio of CD45.1:CD45.2 expressing thymocytes and splenocytes between 0.3 and 0.7, demonstrating the comparable capacity of CD1d−/−, CD1d+/+ and CD1d-EYFP/EYFP bone marrow cells to reconstitute general lymphocyte population. After six weeks of grafting the mice were analyzed for the presence and development of Vα14 iNKT cells. All mice were bred and maintained in a barrier facility and studies were performed according to institutional guidelines for animal use and care.

Antibodies and reagents

CD1d:PBS-57 (αGalCer) tetramers were kindly provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease MHC Tetramer Core facility, Atlanta. Antibodies were acquired from eBiosciences (San Diego, CA), BD-Biosciences (San Diego, CA), Biolegend (San Diego, CA) and Invitrogen (Carlsbad, CA). Annexin V was acquired from BD-Biosciences (San Diego, CA). Dr. A. Bendelac provided cells excreting rat-anti-mouse CD1d (19G11), Dr. G. Besra provided αGalCer and Gal(α1→2)GalCer) and Dr. H. Ploegh provided polyclonal rabbit anti-EGFP Ab.


Thymocytes were lysed with NP40 lysis buffer (2% NP40, 150 mM NaCL, 1 mM EDTA, 0.02% NaN3, 0.5 mM Trisbase pH 10.4 and protease inhibitor (Roche Indianapolis, IN). Lysates were boiled, separated on a 4-20% Tris-HCL gel and transferred to a PVDF membrane (Biorad Criterion, Hercules, CA). Membranes were blotted using a polyclonal anti-mCD1d Ab (19G11) or a polyclonal anti-EGFP Ab, which cross-reacts with EYFP.

Vα14 iNKT cell enrichment from the liver

Mouse liver was perfused with PBS, homogenized trough a stainless steel mesh. After 5 min centrifugation at 2000 rpm, the liver cells were taken up in 9 ml of PBS and mixed with 5ml of 80% Percoll. This suspension was overlayed on 3 ml 80% Percoll and the gradient was spun for 20 min at 2000 rpm. The interface containing the liver lymphocytes was collected, washed with PBS and red blood cells were lysed using ammoniumchloride.

Flow cytometry and CD1d endocytosis assay

Cells were stained with the relevant mAb on ice in the presence of Fc-block (2.4G2). Vα14 iNKT cells and their different developmental stages were detected by staining with αGalCer-loaded CD1d-tetramers and antibodies against TCRβ, CD44 and NK1.1, unless mentioned otherwise. Incubating thymic Vα14 iNKT cells at 37°C for 30 minutes induced apoptosis. The amount of apoptosis was determined by staining with Annexin V following manufacturers suggestions. For the endocytosis assay, thymocytes were stained for 1h on ice in DMEM with PE-conjugated CD1d mAb in the presence of 10 μg/ml cycloheximide to block de novo synthesis. Cells were washed and subsequently incubated for various times at 37°C. Surface-bound mAb was stripped using 300 mM glycine/1% FCS solution (pH 2, 3 min) before neutralization (300 mM glycine/1% FCS solution, pH 7) staining for surface markers and fixation (10 min, 4% paraformaldehyde). CD1d endocytosis was determined by the relative intensity of internalized anti-CD1d mAb. Normalized residual surface CD1d was calculated by setting surface CD1d-PE fluorescence at 100% and subtracting the percentage of internalized CD1d-PE.

Vα14 iNKT stimulation assays

CD11c+ MACS purified spleen DCs were stimulated for 4 hours with 100ng/ml of αGalCer or Gal(α1→2)GalCer after two washes freshly isolated liver Vα14 iNKT cells were added to the culture for 24 (for IL-4) or 48 (for IFN-γ) hours. Vα14 iNKT cells in enriched leukocytes from CD1dEYFP/EYFP liver were two-fold reduced compared to wild-type, and was corrected for by addition of twice the number of Vα14 iNKT cell-enriched leukocytes to the antigen-laden DC cultures. IFN-γ and IL-4 secretion was measured by ELISA following manufacturers suggestions (eBiosciences, San Diego, CA).

Statistical analyses

Data are shown as mean ± standard error of the mean (SEM). Unpaired two-tailed t-test was used to compare two groups. A p-value of at least 0.05 was considered statistically significant. Analysis was performed using Prism 4.0 for Mac software (GraphPad Software, Inc., San Diego, CA).


Mice expressing CD1d-EYFP fusion proteins

Mice have only two CD1 genes, CD1d1 and CD1d2. Expression of CD1d2 protein in mice is restricted to thymocytes and is considered non-functional (29, 30). We focused on CD1d1, hereafter referred to as CD1d, and generated knock-in mice in which the CD1d locus was replaced by a version encoding CD1d-EYFP fusion protein by homologous recombination (figure 1A). The phosphoglycerate kinase promotor-driven neomycin resistance gene in the targeting vector, flanked by loxP sites, was deleted by breeding with cre-deleter mice (figure 1A). Development of CD4 and CD8 T cells, B cells and DCs was unaffected by the knock-in mutation (data not shown). Thymocytes from CD1d-EYFP/EYFP and wild-type mice show similar protein levels of CD1d (figure 1B; left panel, polyclonal anti-CD1d blotting antibody). The presence and abundance of CD1d-EYFP polypeptide in whole thymus lysate was also comparable in amount to MHC Class II-EGFP β chain polypeptide (31) (figure 1B, right panel, polyclonal anti-EGFP antibody, which also recognizes EYFP protein). Thymocytes showed the expected 49 kDa CD1d product in wild-type mice, and a 76 kDa fusion protein product in CD1d-EYFP/EYFP mice (composed of the 49 kDa CD1d together with 27 kDa EYFP polypeptide) (figure 1B). No free EYFP was detected. Therefore, EYFP detected by flow cytometry (figure 1C) or visualized by microscopy (figure 1D) represents CD1d molecules labeled with EYFP (CD1d-EYFP), and CD1d-EYFP molecules are stable in the cellular environment. Using flow cytometry on fresh peripheral blood B lymphocytes we showed that CD1d-EYFP/EYFP mice express double the amount of EYFP fluorescence compared to CD1d-EYFP/+ mice that harbor one CD1d-EYFP and one untagged CD1d allele (figure 1C).

Figure 1
Generation and characterization of CD1d-EYFP knock-in mice

Direct visualization of intracellular localization of CD1d-EYFP fusion proteins

CD1d molecules acquire their antigenic cargo in the lysosomal pathway. CD1d molecules therefore predominantly localize to the cell surface and the lysosomal pathway (26). We purified DCs from bone marrow and determined the subcellular distribution of CD1d-EYFP molecules by confocal microscopy. DCs were analyzed immediately after magnetic cell sorting based on CD11c-expression, to prevent maturation and DC attachment to coverslips. Using Z-stack analysis, CD1d-EYFP fluorescence was found in intracellular vesicular structures of the endo/lysosomal pathway, as well as on the cell surface in DCs (figure 1D).

V α 14 iNKT cell development in CD1d-EYFP/EYFP mice

The positive selection and terminal differentiation of Vα14 iNKT cells requires CD1d-mediated antigen presentation by both cortical thymocytes and professional APCs (20, 23). To determine if CD1d-EYFP can fully substitute for its unlabeled counterpart, we asked whether CD1d-EYFP molecules can support Vα14 iNKT cell development in vivo.Vα14 iNKT cells were characterized by staining with antiTCRβ and CD1d-tetramers loaded with the pan-iNKT cell ligand αGalCer and analyzed by flow cytometry. CD1d-EYFP/EYFP mice showed a ~60 percent reduction in tetramer-positive Vα14 iNKT cells in the thymus, and ~80 percent reduction in spleen and liver compared to wild-type (figure 2). No Vα14 iNKT cells were detected in CD1d−/−mice, as previously described (32). Thus, CD1d-EYFP molecules in vivo can support Vα14 iNKT cell development, albeit with reduced efficiency compared to wild-type CD1d molecules.

Figure 2
Impaired thymic selection of Vα14 iNKT cells in CD1d-EYFP/EYFP mice

Thymic selection of Vα14 iNKT cells expressing one CD1d or CD1d-EYFP allele

The reduced Vα14 NKT cell number in CD1d-EYFP/EYFP mice indicates a defect in the functioning of CD1d-EYFP. Alternatively, this observation could be caused by a reduced expression of CD1d-EYFP compared to wild-type, as CD1d-EYFP/EYFP thymocytes display less CD1d at the cell surface than do CD1d+/+ thymocytes (p<0.05) (figure 3A). However, CD1d-EYFP/+ heterozygous mice exhibited normal Vα14 iNKT cell numbers, as do CD1d+/−heterozygous mice that express 50% less CD1d at the cell surface (figure 3A and B). Thus, the expression of a single wild-type CD1d allele suffices to support normal thymic Vα14 iNKT cell selection, and the decreased Vα14 iNKT cell development in CD1d-EYFP/EYFP mice was unlikely to result from the ~25% decrease in CD1d surface expression. CD1d-EYFP/EYFP mice moreover exhibited normal percentages of DP thymocytes (figure S1). The thymic selection of Vβ7+, but not Vβ8.2+, Vα14 iNKT cells is favored in situations where endogenous CD1d ligand concentration are suboptimal, as was shown in CD1d+/−mice (33), while Vβ7+ Vα14 iNKT cells are relatively diminished upon CD1d overexpression (28). We asked whether endogenous antigen presentation by CD1d-EYFP molecules is suboptimal, as an explanation for decreased Vα14 iNKT cell development. To this end, we examined the TCR Vβ repertoire of Vα14 iNKT cells in CD1d-EYFP knock-in mice. We found that thymic Vα14 iNKT cells from CD1d-EYFP/EYFP mice displayed a bias in their Vβ repertoire, with an overrepresentation of Vβ7+ usage that was more pronounced than was earlier shown in CD1d+/−mice (p<0.001) (figure 3C). Use of the TCR Vβ domain shapes the selection of Vα14 iNKT cells by endogenous ligand displayed by CD1d (33). Therefore, our data suggests that presentation of endogenous lipid antigens supporting thymic selection of Vα14 iNKT cells is suboptimal in CD1d-EYFP/EYFP mice when compared to wild-type mice.

Figure 3
CD1d surface display and Vα14 iNKT cell development in heterozygous and homozygous CD1d mutant mice

Incomplete Vα14 iNKT cell selection and maturation in CD1d-EYFP thymus

We next asked how suboptimal endogenous antigen presentation during positive selection affects thymic development of Vα14 iNKT cells. To this end, we generated mixed bone marrow chimeras in which we tracked CD1d−/−bone marrow precursors for their ability to give rise to Vα14 iNKT cells when transferred into CD1dexpressing recipient hosts (15), and measured the expression of the maturation markers CD44 and NK1.1 on Vα14 iNKT cells. In these chimeras, CD45.1 CD1d−/Vα14 iNKT cell precursors were selected on DP thymocytes expressing either wild-type CD45.2 CD1d (CD1d−/−: CD1d+/+ chimeras) or CD45.2 CD1d-EYFP (CD1d−/: CD1d-EYFP/EYFP chimeras). CD1d−/−hosts were lethally irradiated and reconstituted with a 1:1 mix of bone marrow cells, distinguishable by expression of separate CD45 isoforms. After six weeks of engraftment, the mice were analyzed for the presence and development of Vα14 iNKT cells. CD1d-EYFP/EYFP chimeras supported thymic development of fewer Vα14 iNKT cells when compared to CD1d+/+ chimeras (p<0.0001), causing a reduction of ~80 percent in Vα14 iNKT cells (figure 4A). We next analyzed 3 successive Vα14 iNKT cell thymic developmental stages, CD44 NK1.1, CD44+ NK1.1 and CD44+ NK1.1+ by flow cytometry, as described in previous studies (12, 15, 16, 22). The majority of thymic Vα14 iNKT cells extracted from CD1d-EYFP/EYFP chimeras were present in the earlier stages (predominantly CD44+ NK1.1) of development, with fewer than 15 percent of cells exhibiting the mature CD44+ NK1.1+ stage. In CD1d+/+ chimeras, Vα14 iNKT cells were more mature overall, with 40 percent of cells being found in the CD44+ NK1.1+ stage (p<0.05) (figure 4B). Thus, CD1d-EYFP molecules are defective at supporting thymic selection and thymic maturation of Vα14 iNKT cells.

Figure 4
Incomplete differentiation and maturation of Vα14 iNKT cells selected on CD1d-EYFP in mixed bone marrow chimeras

Delay in thymic Vα14 iNKT cell maturation selected on CD1d-EYFP molecules

After birth, the Vα14 iNKT cell compartment continues to expand and mature, with a cellular increase with age up to 50 days (12, 15, 16, 34) after which thymic Vα14 iNKT cell numbers drop (35). In newborn mice, the majority of thymic Vα14 iNKT cells are CD44 NK1.1, which gradually acquire CD44 and NK1.1 expression (12, 15). Also in the periphery, CD44+ NK1.1 thymic emigrants progressively develop into CD44+ NK1.1+ Vα14 iNKT cells (35). We analyzed thymic Vα14 iNKT cells from three age cohorts of CD1d-EYFP/EYFP and control mice accordingly. Throughout time, thymic Vα14 iNKT cells from CD1d-EYFP/EYFP mice significantly remain in the earlier stages of development (predominantly CD44 NK1.1) compared to CD1d+/+ mice (p<0.05) (figure 5A). To establish further that Vα14 iNKT cells are inhibited in their thymic maturation when selected on CD1d-EYFP molecules, we analyzed for downregulation of the developmental markers Slamf1 (CD150) and CD69. Developing iNKT cells temporarily display high levels of Slamf1 expression on DP Vα14 iNKT cell precursors (CD24+ CD44 NK1.1) (36). CD69 is also temporarily expressed following positive selection of MHC-restricted T cells (37) and after positive selection of Vα14 iNKT cells (12, 15, 16, 21, 22). In 6-9 week old mice we found that Vα14 iNKT cells that were selected on CD1d-EYFP molecules retained significantly high surface levels of Slamf1 (p<0.006) (figure 5B) and CD69 (p<0.0001) (figure 5C) up until the last stage of development compared to CD1d+/+ mice. Similar data was found in mice 2-5 weeks and 10-13 weeks of age (data not shown).

Figure 5
Age-dependent delay in differentiation and maturation of Vα14 iNKT cells selected on CD1d-EYFP molecules

Furthermore, thymic Vα14 iNKT cells from CD1d-EYFP/EYFP mice exhibited increased levels of apoptosis, as measured by flow cytometric analysis of Annexin V staining, which could partially account for the reduction of Vα14 iNKT cells in CD1d-EYFP/EYFP mice (figure S2A and B). This increase in apoptosis was found in each age group and in each of the three stages of development (p<0.05). Taken together, our data shows that suboptimal endogenous antigen presentation by CD1dEYFP molecules results in decreased thymic maturation of developing Vα14 iNKT cells.

CD1d-EYFP molecules support normal peripheral maturation of Vα14 iNKT cells

The majority of Vα14 iNKT cells exits the thymus in immature stage (CD44+ NK1.1) and matures in the periphery (12, 16). Acquisition of NK1.1 by these immature Vα14 iNKT cells and acquisition of full effector function requires interaction with CD1d in the periphery (23) by professional MHC Class II-expressing APCs (20). We next asked whether CD1d-EYFP molecules can mediate post-selection maturation of Vα14 iNKT cells. Vα14 iNKT cells from spleens of CD1d-EYFP/EYFP and CD1d+/+ mice showed comparable CD44+ NK1.1+ profiles, suggesting that CD1d-EYFP molecules support peripheral maturation of Vα14 iNKT cells (figure 6A). Do phenotypically mature Vα14 iNKT cells selected on CD1d-EYFP molecules produce normal amounts of cytokine upon activation? Wild-type spleen DCs were allowed to stimulate Vα14 iNKT cells extracted from either wild-type or CD1d-EYFP/EYFP livers. In addition to αGalCer glycolipid antigen, we used Gal(α1→2)GalCer, which requires internalization and removal of the terminal sugars by the lysosomal enzyme, αgalactosidase A, for CD1d-mediated presentation to occur (38). CD1d-EYFP/EYFP Vα14 iNKT cells produced normal levels of IFN-γ upon αGalCer and Gal(α1→2)GalCer presentation by wild-type spleen DCs (middle bar in figures 6B and D). However, IL-4 production by CD1d-EYFP/EYFP Vα14 iNKT cells was nearly absent compared to their wild-type counterparts (middle bar in figures 6C and E). In addition, IL-2 production by CD1d-EYFP/EYFP Vα14 iNKT cells was reduced upon αGalCer and Gal(α1→2)GalCer presentation by wild-type spleen DCs (p<0.05) (figure S3A and B). Thus, endogenous antigen presentation by CD1d-EYFP molecules during thymic selection results in Vα14 iNKT cells that produce normal levels of IFN-γ, decreased levels of IL2 and no IL-4.

Figure 6
Normal peripheral maturation, but lack of antigen-induced IL-4 production by Vα14 iNKT cells selected on CD1d-EYFP molecules

Endocytosis of CD1d-EYFP molecules in thymocytes, CD4+ T cells and DCs

We had noticed that in DP thymocytes and spleen CD4+ T cells of CD1dEYFP/EYFP mice, the surface expression of CD1d measured by flow cytometry appears as narrower MFI histogram peaks compared to wild-type (figure S4A). In the DP thymocytes this tighter surface CD1d distribution resulted in a significant decrease in MFI compared to wild-type (p<0.05), while in spleen CD4+ T cells from homozygous CD1d-EYFP mice, the number of surface-expressed CD1d molecules was increased (reflected in a narrower histogram peak that is shifted more to the right, p<0.05). On professional APCs (spleen DCs) from CD1d-EYFP/EYFP mice, however, CD1d surface expression was comparable to their wild-type counterparts (figure S4A). To determine if the increase in surface-expressed CD1d related to decreased endocytosis of CD1d-EYFP, we next analyzed the rate of Ab-binding-induced endocytosis in thymocytes, CD4+ T cells and DCs from CD1d+/+, CD1dEYFP/EYFP and CD1d−/−mice. Cells were labeled on ice using PE-conjugated anti CD1d in the presence of cycloheximide to block protein synthesis. Aliquots of cells were transferred to 37°C, and collected at sequential times thereafter. Antibody bound to surface CD1d was stripped by acid treatment, and the extent of internalized CD1d bound by PE-conjugated anti-CD1d antibody was visualized by flow cytometry (39). The internalization rate of CD1d-EYFP molecules in DP thymocytes was significantly reduced compared to wild-type (p<0.05) (figure 7A and B). Control thymocytes from CD1d-deficient mice show no CD1d staining at any of the time points (figure S4B). Similar to their thymic counterparts, endocytosis of CD1d-EYFP molecules in CD4+ T cells was significantly reduced compared to wild-type CD1d molecules (p<0.05) (figure 7A). Compared to DP thymocytes, Ab-binding-induced CD1d endocytosis in spleen-derived DCs is much reduced and without significant difference between CD1d-EYFP/EYFP and wild-type DCs (p>0.05) (figure 7A and 7B).

Figure 7
Delay in endocytosis of CD1d-EYFP fusion proteins in T cells, but not in professional APCs

Effector function of end-differentiated V α 14 iNKT cells from CD1dEYFP/EYFP and Ii−/−mice

Thymocytes do not express Ii, and CD1d therefore strictly relies on its own CD1dencoded tyrosine-based sorting motif for localization in lysosomes. In professional APCs, however, endosomal sorting of CD1d could be mediated by the CD1d-encoded tyrosine-based sorting motif, or via association of CD1d with the Class II MHC-chaperone Ii (7-9). We asked whether in professional APCs, the CD1d-encoded tyrosine-based sorting motif and Ii-encoded sorting motif can supplement for each other in mediating lysosomal localization, antigen acquisition and presentation by CD1d. To this end, we tested whether Gal(α1→2)GalCer can be processed and presented by spleen-derived DCs, when either CD1d-EYFP is expressed, or Ii is absent, or in DCs from mice that harbor both mutations (Ii−/−CD1d-EYFP/EYFP mice). DCs from indicated mouse strains were loaded with graded amounts of Gal(α1→2)GalCer for four hours, were washed, and allowed to stimulate wild-type Vα14 iNKT cells. Wild-type DCs presenting 100 pg/ml αGalCer to wild-type Vα14 iNKT cells were included as a control to determine the response potential of the Vα14 iNKT cells in this assay. Wild-type DCs strongly induced IFN-γ production and IL-4 production in Vα14 iNKT cells (figure 8A, 8B). DCs from CD1d-EYFP/EYFP mice, Ii−/−mice and the combined Ii−/−CD1d-EYFP/EYFP mice did not induce IFNγ production by wild-type Vα14 iNKT cells (p<0.001), while also IL-4 production was significantly reduced (p<0.05). DCs from CD1d−/−mice did not induce cytokine production in wild-type Vα14 iNKT cells. Similarly, presentation of Gal(α1→2)GalCer by CD1d-EYFP/EYFP spleen DCs resulted in significantly less IL-2 production by wild-type Vα14 iNKT cells (p<0.05) (third bar in figure S3B). Taken together, endosomal sorting of CD1d relies on both its self-encoded tyrosine-based motif, and on association with Ii in professional APCs in the periphery, to stimulate Vα14 iNKT cells. Thus, both the CD1d-encoded and Ii-encoded endosomal sorting motifs are necessary to induce activation of Vα14 iNKT cells by professional APCs in spleen.

Figure 8
Endosomal antigen loading and stimulation of Vα14 iNKT cells by professional APCs requires endosomal sorting motifs of Ii and CD1d-cytosolic tail


A remaining question in the field of CD1d-mediated antigen presentation and Vα14 iNKT cell development concerns the intracellular endosomal trafficking routes of CD1d during Vα14 iNKT cell development. In contrast to conventional, MHC-selected CD4 and CD8 T cells, Vα14 iNKT cells require antigen presentation by both non-professional and professional APCs in order to obtain terminal maturation. While thymic selection occurs on DP thymocytes presenting CD1d, final CD1d-mediated maturation events after their thymic emigration, by interaction with professional APCs (17-20, 23). Endosomal tyrosine-based sorting motifs in the CD1d-tail and in Ii mediate endosomal localization of CD1d (7-9), which therefore could result in exposure to non-overlapping antigens due to differential localization in non-Iiexpressing cells (i.e., DP cortical thymocytes) and Ii-expressing cells (i.e., professional APCs). We here investigated the role of the CD1d-encoded endosomal sorting motif in thymic development, peripheral maturation and activation of mature Vα14 iNKT cells.

A comparative study for the role of professional APCs and other CD1d-expressing cells in peripheral maturation of Vα14 iNKT cells is complicated, because in most mutant mice in which CD1d-mediated presentation is affected, both thymic development and peripheral maturation of Vα14 iNKT cells is hampered, resulting in thymic deletion of Vα14 iNKT cells during thymic development and inability for their study during peripheral maturation. The importance of peripheral maturation events for Vα14 iNKT cell function, however, is clear. In NOD mice, for example, Vα14 iNKT cells do develop but are unable to fully mature, which results in a predisposition to insulitis development (24, 25). We generated a new mouse strain in which all CD1d is expressed as CD1d-EYFP fusion proteins, in which we investigated the role of CD1d endosomal sorting and Vα14 iNKT cell development and maturation.

In the homozygous CD1d-EYFP mice, a sizable fraction of Vα14 iNKT cells of 40 percent pass successfully through positive selection. This is in contrast with CD1d-tail deleted mice, in which Vα14 iNKT cells were decreased to ~10 percent (9). In CD1dEYFP/EYFP mice, the thymic selection defect probably differs from the defect in CD1d-tail deleted mice in which CD1d access to endosomal compartments is blocked. In CD1d-EYFP/EYFP mice, CD1d-EYFP molecules do localize to endosomal compartments, albeit at a different kinetic rate. Using CD1d+/−mice, it was shown that in situations where endogenous CD1d ligand concentration are suboptimal, thymic selection of Vβ7+, but not+, Vα14 iNKT cells is favored (33), while Vβ7 Vβ8.2+ Vα14 iNKT cells are relatively diminished upon CD1d overexpression (28). The hierarchy of Vβ chain usage (Vβ8, Vβ7 and Vβ2) is already established during positive selection and is not altered thereafter through preferential cellular expansion (21, 33). CD1d-EYFP/EYFP mice also show an overrepresentation of Vβ7 usage by Vα14 iNKT cells, suggesting that endogenous antigen presentation by CD1d-EYFP molecules is suboptimal. Endogenous antigen presentation during thymic selection, however, is not absent as in CD1d-tail deleted mice, and CD1d-EYFP/EYFP mice are still able to support development of 40 percent of Vα14 iNKT cells.

Maturation of Vα14 iNKT cells in both the thymus and the periphery can be monitored by acquisition of NK1.1 and CD44 (12, 16) and is CD1d-dependent (20, 23). In thymus of CD1d-EYFP/EYFP mice, acquisition of NK1.1 and CD44 was delayed, but was compensated for in full during peripheral maturation of Vα14 iNKT cells capable of seeding in the periphery. NK1.1 expression signals a maturation of the cytokine response toward high IFN-γ production (12, 16, 22). We confirm this data, as terminally matured Vα14 iNKT cells in CD1-EYFP/EYFP mice were fully capable of producing IFN-γ, but not IL-4. In humans, invariant NKT cells (characterized by Vα24/Vβ11 TCR junctions) are readily distinguished based on expression of CD4: CD4+ Vα24 iNKT cells are the exclusive producers IL-4 and IL13 upon primary stimulation, but could also produce Th1 cytokines, whereas the double negative (DN) Vα24 iNKT cells had a strict Th1 profile producing IFN-γ and TNF-α (40, 41). It is yet unclear whether in mice a similar divide of CD4+ and DN Vα14 iNKT cells in production of Th1 and Th2 responses exists (37, 42-45). In CD1d-EYFP/EYFP mice, it is a possibility that IL-4 -producing Vα14 iNKT cells are specifically deleted during thymic selection on CD1d-EYFP molecules. In mice, CD4+ Vα14 iNKT cells constitute the majority of the Vα14 iNKT cells in the periphery. Both CD4+ and DN Vα14 iNKT cell subsets showed comparable decreases in numbers present in CD1d-EYFP/EYFP spleen. There was no selective depletion of DN Vα14 iNKT cell subsets that could explain the absence of IL-4 production (data not shown).

CD1d-EYFP/EYFP mice exhibit a narrower mean fluorescence peak in CD1d surface expression in DP thymocytes and CD4+ T cells, representing a more homogenous population of cells expressing similar surface levels of CD1d. This tighter distribution of surface CD1d-EYFP could1d be caused by the delay in internalization rate. Tail-deleted CD1d molecules exhibit a slower internalization rate than wild-type CD1d, but recycling (re-appearance from intracellular compartments) is undisturbed (8). For CD1d-EYFP molecules, a slower endocytosis rate resulted in accumulation of CD1d at the cell surface in peripheral CD4+ T cells, but not for CD4+ CD8+ thymocytes. Recycling assays using primary cells were unsuccessful in our hands. The rate of CD1d-EYFP recycling could possibly be faster in CD4+ T cells than thymocytes, which would explain the accumulation on the surface in CD4+ T cells and not in CD4+ CD8+ thymocytes.

The homeostasis of Vα14 iNKT cells in the periphery is independent of the presence of CD1d in the periphery: CD1d does not affect the survival or expansion rate of iNKT cells in the periphery (23, 46). CD1d-EYFP/EYFP mice exhibit a decrease in Vα14 NKT cell numbers in spleen and liver. Since thymic output of post-selection Vα14 iNKT cells is decreased in CD1d-EFP/EYFP mice, fewer recent thymic emigrants are seeded in the periphery, which is a likely cause for the observed lower set-point for Vα14 iNKT cell homeostasis in the periphery.

Stimulation of terminally differentiated Vα14 iNKT cells by presentation of lysosomal antigen on professional APCs required unmodified CD1d and presence of Ii. Thus, while CD1d-EYFP molecules were capable of mediating peripheral maturation of Vα14 iNKT cells, they did not succeed in provoking IFN-γ and IL-4 production in Vα14 iNKT cells. Taken together, we here describe a new mouse model, in which all CD1d is expressed as CD1d-EYFP fusion proteins. An unexpected phenotype of these mice clarified the role of CD1d endosomal sorting motifs in Vα14 iNKT cell selection and peripheral iNKT cell maturation, during thymic selection and by peripheral Ii-expressing professional APCs. Endosomal sorting mediated by the CD1d-intrinsic tyrosine motif is critical for thymic positive selection. In the periphery, CD1d endosomal sorting does not require the intrinsic CD1d-encoded sorting motif for terminal maturation of Vα14 iNKT cells. Activation of differentiated Vα14 iNKT cells, however, does require both the CD1d-tail encoded sorting motif, and cannot be compensated for by the Class II MHC-associated Ii.

Supplementary Material

Figures S1 - S4

Figure S1. Normal development of DP thymocytes in CD1d-EYFP expressing mice.

Thymocytes from 6-9 week old mice were stained with CD4 and CD8 mAbs and percentage of DP thymocytes was assessed by flow cytometry. Surface CD1d expression between CD1d+/+ and CD1d-EYFP/EYFP or CD1d-EYFP/+ is significantly different (p<0.05). Comparable development of DP thymocytes was found in CD1d+/+, CD1d-EYFP/EYFP, CD1d-EYFP/+, CD1d+/−and CD1d−/−mice (NS, p>0.1).

Figure S2. Increased apoptosis among Vα14 iNKT cells from CD1d-EYFP/EYFP mice.

A. Thymocytes from CD1d+/+ or CD1d-EYFP/EYFP mice were incubated for 30 minutes at 37°C to induce apoptosis. After incubation cells were incubated with Annexin V, mAbs against TCRβ, CD44, NK1.1, αGalCer-loaded CD1d-tetramers and analyzed by flow cytometry. Data shown are representative of at least 3 experiments. The bars represent the mean of at least triplicate values and the brackets indicate SEM. Vα14 iNKT cells from CD1d-EYFP/EYFP mice undergo significantly more apoptosis than CD1d+/+ Vα14 iNKT cells at any age (* p<0.01).

B. Representative histogram of AnnexinV staining on mature (CD44+ NK1.1+) Vα14 iNKT cells from 6-9 week old mice. Mature CD1d-EYFP/EYFP Vα14 iNKT cells exhibit significantly more Annexin V staining than CD1d+/+ Vα14 iNKT cells (p<0.05).

Figure S3. Decreased production of antigen-induced IL-2 by Vα14 iNKT cells selected on CD1d-EYFP molecules.

Activation of Vα14 iNKT cells in vitro. Spleen DCs and liver Vα14 iNKT cells from WT (CD1d+/+) or CD1d-EYFP/EYFP mice were co-cultured in the presence of 100 ng/ml αGalCer (A) or 100 ng/ml Gal(α1→2)GalCer (B). Results displayed in bar graphs are representative of 2 experiments. Shown are the mean of triplicate values with SEM. Production of IL-2 by CD1d-EYFP/EYFP Vα14 iNKT cells was significantly reduced compared to their CD1d+/+ counterparts (* p<0.001). Presentation of Gal(α1→2)GalCer by CD1d-EYFP/EYFP spleen DCs resulted in significantly less IL-2 production by wild-type Vα14 iNKT cells (* p<0.05).

Figure S4. Increased surface expression and delay in endocytosis of CD1d-EYFP fusion proteins in T cells, but not in professional APCs.

A. Surface expression of CD1d on DP thymocytes, spleen CD4+ T cells and spleen DCs. DP thymocytes and spleen CD4+ T cells, but not spleen DCs from CD1dEYFP/EYFP mice express increased surface levels of CD1d compared to wild-type (T cells: p<0.05; DCs: NS, p>0.05).

B. The extent of internalized CD1d bound by PE-conjugated anti-CD1d antibody in thymocytes, CD4+ T cells and DCs from CD1d+/+, CD1d-EYFP/EYFP and CD1d−/mice was visualized by flow cytometry. CD1d-EYFP molecules on DP thymocytes exhibit a significantly longer surface retention time than wild-type CD1d molecules, demonstrated within 0.5 hours of endocytosis induction (p<0.005). CD1d-EYFP molecules on CD4+ T cells in the periphery exhibit a significantly longer surface retention time than wild-type CD1d molecules (p<0.05). Professional APCs in the periphery display less CD1d endocytosis activity than T cells. No difference was found between endocytosis of CD1d-EYFP molecules and CD1d (NS, p>0.05). Control thymocytes from CD1d-deficient mice show no CD1d staining at any of the time points. Histograms shown are representative of 3 independent experiments. Data points in the graph represent the mean of quadruplet values and brackets indicate SEM.


We thank Dr. T. Bianchi, Bryan Vander Lugt and Arjan Stoppelenburg from the Boes laboratory, Dr. S. Behar and his lab-members, and Dr. M. Nowak from the M. Exley laboratory for helpful discussions. We are also thankful to Dr. H. Ploegh for the anti-EGFP antibody; Dr. M. Exley for providing CD1d−/−mice; Dr. A. Bendelac for the hybridoma excreting rat-anti-mouse CD1d (19G11); Dr. G. Besra for αGalCer and Gal(α1→2)GalCer); and The NIH Tetramer Facility for supplying the CD1dtetramers.

F. Sillé and M. Boes designed research; F. Sillé, M. Boxem and D. Sprengers performed research; N. Veerapen and G. Besra contributed new reagents; F. Sillé and M. Boes analyzed data; F. Sillé and M. Boes wrote the paper.

Abbreviations used in this paper

iNKT cell
invariant Natural Killer T cell
invariant chain
enhanced yellow fluorescent fusion protein
α galactosylceramide
dendritic cell
bone marrow-derived dendritic cell
galactosyl(α1→2) galactosylceramide


1Grant support is acknowledged from a pre-doctoral fellowship from the Boehringer Ingelheim Fonds (to FS), the Harvard Skin Disease Research Center, NWO-Veni grant and RO1-AR052810 (MB). GSB acknowledges support from The Medical Research Council, The Wellcome Trust, Mr. James Bardrick in the form of a Personal Research Chair and a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award.

Publisher's Disclaimer: This is an author-produced version of a manuscript accepted for publication in The Journal of Immunology (The JI). The American Association of Immunologists, Inc. (AAI), publisher of The JI, holds the copyright to this manuscript. This version of the manuscript has not yet been copyedited or subjected to editorial proofreading by The JI; hence, it may differ from the final version published in The JI (online and in print). AAI (The JI) is not liable for errors or omissions in this author-produced version of the manuscript or in any version derived from it by the U.S. National Institutes of Health or any other third party. The final, citable version of record can be found at

The authors have no conflicting financial interests.


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