Kumar A, Pyaram K, Yarosz EL, Hong H, Lyssiotis CA, Giri S, Chang C. Enhanced oxidative phosphorylation in NKT cells is essential for their survival and function. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2019; 116(15):7439-7448.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Cellular metabolism and signaling pathways are key regulators to determine conventional T cell fate and function, but little is understood about the role of cell metabolism for natural killer T (NKT) cell survival, proliferation, and function. We found that NKT cells operate distinct metabolic programming from CD4 T cells. NKT cells are less efficient in glucose uptake than CD4 T cells with or without activation. Gene-expression data revealed that, in NKT cells, glucose is preferentially metabolized by the pentose phosphate pathway and mitochondria, as opposed to being converted into lactate. In fact, glucose is essential for the effector functions of NKT cells and a high lactate environment is detrimental for NKT cell survival and proliferation. Increased glucose uptake and IFN-γ expression in NKT cells is inversely correlated with bacterial loads in response to bacterial infection, further supporting the significance of glucose metabolism for NKT cell function. We also found that promyelocytic leukemia zinc finger seemed to play a role in regulating NKT cells' glucose metabolism. Overall, our study reveals that NKT cells use distinct arms of glucose metabolism for their survival and function.