Terminal maturation of invariant NKT (iNKT) cells from stage 2 (CD44+NK1.1–) to stage 3 (CD44+NK1.1+) is accompanied by a functional acquisition of a predominant IFN-γ–producing (iNKT-1) phenotype; however, some cells develop into IL-17–producing iNKT (iNKT-17) cells. iNKT-17 cells are rare and restricted to a CD44+NK1.1– lineage. It is unclear how iNKT terminal maturation is regulated and what factors mediate the predominance of iNKT-1 compared with iNKT-17. The tumor suppressor tuberous sclerosis 1 (TSC1) is an important negative regulator of mTOR signaling, which regulates T cell differentiation, function, and trafficking. Here, we determined that mice lacking TSC1 exhibit a developmental block of iNKT differentiation at stage 2 and skew from a predominantly iNKT-1 population toward a predominantly iNKT-17 population, leading to enhanced airway hypersensitivity. Evaluation of purified iNKT cells revealed that TSC1 promotes T-bet, which regulates iNKT maturation, but downregulates ICOS expression in iNKT cells by inhibiting mTOR complex 1 (mTORC1). Furthermore, mice lacking T-bet exhibited both a terminal maturation defect of iNKT cells and a predominance of iNKT-17 cells, and increased ICOS expression was required for the predominance of iNKT-17 cells in the population of TSC1-deficient iNKT cells. Our data indicate that TSC1-dependent control of mTORC1 is crucial for terminal iNKT maturation and effector lineage decisions, resulting in the predominance of iNKT-1 cells.
Jinhong Wu, Jialong Yang, Kai Yang, Hongxia Wang, Balachandra Gorentla, Jinwook Shin, Yurong Qiu, Loretta G. Que, W. Michael Foster, Zhenwei Xia, Hongbo Chi, Xiao-Ping Zhong