The Alpha and Omega of Galactosylceramides in T Cell Immune Function [Immunology]

May 6th, 2015 by Birkholz, A. M., Howell, A. R., Kronenberg, M.

Glycosphingolipids (GSLs) are a subgroup of glycolipids that contain an amino alcohol sphingoid base linked to sugars. They are found in the membranes of cells ranging from bacteria to vertebrates. This group of lipids is known to stimulate the immune system through activation of a type of white blood cell known as natural killer T cells (NKT cells). Here we summarize the extensive research that has been done to identify the structures of natural glycolipids that stimulate NKT cells and to determine how these antigens are recognized. We also review studies designed to understand how variants, both natural and synthetic, can alter the responses of NKT cells, leading to dramatic changes in the global immune response.