Transcription factor Bcl11b controls selection of invariant natural killer T-cells by regulating glycolipid presentation in double-positive thymocytes

Diana I. Albu, Jeffrey VanValkenburgh, Nicole Morin, Danielle Califano, Nancy A. Jenkins, Neal G. Copeland, Pentao Liu, Dorina Avram

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Invariant natural killer T cells (iNKT cells) are innate-like T cells important in immune regulation, antimicrobial protection, and anti-tumor responses. They express semi-invariant T cell receptors, which recognize glycolipid antigens. Their positive selection is mediated by double-positive (DP) thymocytes, which present glycolipid self-antigens through the noncanonical MHC class I-like molecule CD1d. Here we provide genetic and biochemical evidence that removal of the transcription factor Bcl11b in DP thymocytes leads to an early block in iNKT cell development, caused by both iNKT cell extrinsic and intrinsic defects. Specifically, Bcl11bdeficient DP thymocytes failed to support Bcl11b-sufficient iNKT precursor development due to defective glycolipid self-antigen presentation, and showed enlarged lysosomes and accumulation of glycosphingolipids. Expression of genes encoding lysosomal proteins with roles in sphingolipid metabolism and glycolipid presentation was found to be altered in Bcl11b-deficient DP thymocytes. These include cathepsins and Niemann-Pick disease type A, B, and C genes. Thus, Bcl11b plays a central role in presentation of glycolipid self-antigens by DP thymocytes, and regulates directly or indirectly expression of lysosomal genes, exerting a critical extrinsic role in development of iNKT lineage, in addition to the intrinsic role in iNKT precursors. These studies demonstrate a unique and previously undescribed role of Bcl11b in DP thymocytes, in addition to the critical function in positive selection of conventional CD4 and CD8 single-positive thymocytes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6211-6216
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number15
StatePublished - Apr 12 2011


  • Inkt cell selection
  • Invariant natural killer T-cell development
  • Lysosomal storage disorder
  • Transcriptional control of iNKT lineage

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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