Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Cellular, Molecular and Biomedical Sciences

First Advisor

Jonathan E. Boyson


Semi-invariant natural killer T (iNKT) cells are critical components of the host immune response in peripheral tissues such as the lung, liver, and gut, and they play important roles in cancer, bacterial infections, autoimmunity, wound repair, and atherosclerosis. Tissue-resident iNKT cells exert their effects early in the developing immune response by rapidly producing a wide variety of cytokines and chemokines, and it was recently discovered that different tissues possess iNKT cell subsets that preferentially produce IFN-γ (NKT1), IL-4 (NKT2), or IL-17 (NKT17). Despite their critical role in the immune response, the mechanisms that regulate iNKT cell function in the periphery remain unclear. Signaling lymphocyte activation marker (SLAM) proteins are cell surface-expressed molecular switches that are expressed on all hematopoietic cells. The nine SLAM family receptors serve a variety of functions including promotion of cell-cell adhesion, regulation of cytokine production, co-stimulation, and inhibition. Importantly, SLAM family receptors are critical for the development of iNKT cells. Yet, numerous efforts to ascribe discrete roles of SLAM family receptors in iNKT cell function has proven difficult.

We conducted a comprehensive analysis of SLAM family receptor co-expression on iNKT cell subsets in the lung, spleen, liver, and thymus and identified co-expression profiles that varied in a tissue and strain-dependent manner. Interestingly, we found that SLAM family receptor expression profiles varied among different iNKT cell subsets. In particular, we noted a close association of SLAMf6 expression with the NKT2 and NKT17 subsets in both the periphery and in the thymus. Further investigation using SLAMf6-deficient mice revealed a critical role for SLAMf6 in NKT2 and NKT17 subset development, and in iNKT IL-4 and IL-17 cytokine production in the periphery. This investigation also revealed that the SLAMf6high NKT2 and NKT17 subsets exhibited significantly higher proliferative capacity than the NKT1 subset and the NKT2 and NKT17 proliferation was dependent, in part, on SLAMf6 expression.

Since Slam family genes are highly polymorphic, we next investigated whether these polymorphisms regulated iNKT function. We employed a B6.129 congenic mouse exhibiting impaired NKT cell function, in which a 6.6 Mbp 129/SvJ locus encompassing Slam genes was introgressed onto the C57BL/6 background. To test the hypothesis that Slam gene polymorphisms regulate iNKT cell function, we refined this genetic interval by generating B6.129 subcongenic lines and assessing iNKT cell function. Unexpectedly, we found that while Slam gene polymorphisms in this model do regulate iNKT cell function, the dominant regulator was in a 0.14 Mbp interval centromeric to the Slam genes. Further experimentation revealed that impaired iNKT cell development and function was associated with changes in the expression of Fcgr3 (Fc gamma receptor III) on iNKT cells, suggesting it as a novel candidate gene regulating iNKT cell function.

Taken together, these data reveal for the first time a specific role for SLAMf6 on NKT2 and NKT17 subset development and function. In addition, these data identify Fcgr3 as a novel candidate gene that regulates iNKT cell subset development and cytokine production. Cumulatively, these data reveal the presence of discrete regulatory mechanisms at work in different iNKT subsets, a finding that has broad implications for our understanding of iNKT-cell mediated immunity.



Number of Pages

211 p.