Invariant NKT cells are a hybrid cell type of Natural Killer cells and T cells, whose development is dependent on thymic positive selection mediated by double positive thymocytes through their recognition of natural ligands presented by CD1d, a nonpolymorphic, non-MHC, MHC-like antigen presenting molecule. Genetic evidence suggested that β-glucosylceramide derived glycosphingolipids (GSLs) are natural ligands for NKT cells. N-butyldeoxygalactonojirimycin (NB-DGJ), a drug that specifically inhibits the glucosylceramide synthase, inhibits the endogenous ligands for NKT cells. Furthermore, we and others have found a β-linked glycosphingolipid, isoglobotriaosylceramide (iGb3), is a stimulatory NKT ligand. The iGb3 synthase knockout mice have a normal NKT development and function, indicating that other ligands exist and remain to be identified. In this study, we have performed a glycosphingolipidomics study of mouse thymus, and studied mice mutants which are deficient in β-hexosaminidase b or α-galactosidase A, two glycosidases that are up- and downstream agents of iGb3 turnover, respectively. Our mass spectrometry methods generated a first database for glycosphingolipids expressed in mouse thymus, which are specifically regulated by rate-limiting glycosidases. Among the identified thymic glycosphingolipids, only iGb3 is a stimulatory ligand for NKT cells, suggesting that large-scale fractionation, enrichment and characterization of minor species of glycosphingolipids are necessary for identifying additional ligands for NKT cells. Our results also provide early insights into cellular lipidomics studies, with a specific focus on the important immunological functions of glycosphingolipids.
- Isoglobotriaosylceramide (iGb3)
- Linear ion trap mass spectrometry
- Natural Killer T (NKT) cells
- T cell receptor
- iGb3 synthase