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Invariant natural killer T (iNKT) cells are a unique population of T lymphocytes, which lie at the interface between the innate and adaptive immune systems, and are important mediators of immune responses and tumor surveillance. iNKT cells recognize lipid antigens in a CD1d-dependent manner; their subsequent activation results in a rapid and specific downstream response, which enhances both innate and adaptive immunity. The capacity of iNKT cells to modify the immune microenvironment influences the ability of the host to control tumor growth, making them an important population to be harnessed in the clinic for the development of anticancer therapeutics. Indeed, the identification of strong iNKT-cell agonists, such as α-galactosylceramide (α-GalCer) and its analogues, has led to the development of synthetic lipids that have shown potential in vaccination and treatment against cancers. In this Masters of Immunology article, we discuss these latest findings and summarize the major discoveries in iNKT-cell biology, which have enabled the design of potent strategies for immune-mediated tumor destruction.

Original publication




Journal article


Cancer Immunol Res

Publication Date





425 - 435


Animals, Antigens, Neoplasm, Humans, Immunotherapy, Natural Killer T-Cells, Neoplasms