Alteration of the relative levels of iNKT cell subsets is associated with chronic mycobacterial infections.
CD1d-restricted invariant natural killer T cells (iNKT cells) have been identified as an important type of effector and regulatory T cell, but their roles in the chronic infectious diseases caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Mycobacterium leprae remain poorly defined. Here, we studied circulating human iNKT cells in blood samples from tuberculosis (TB) and leprosy patients. We found that the percentages of iNKT cells among total circulating T cells in TB and leprosy patients were not significantly different from those in normal controls. However, both TB and leprosy patients showed a selective reduction of the proinflammatory CD4(-)CD8beta(-) (DN) iNKT cells with a proportionate increase in the CD4(+) iNKT cells. Similar phenotypic alterations in circulating iNKT cells were observed in a mouse model of M. tuberculosis infection. Taken together, these findings indicate that the selective reduction of circulating DN iNKT cells is associated with chronic infections caused by M. tuberculosis and M. leprae.