Invariant Natural Killer Cells Regulate Conventional Dendritic Cell Maturation to Re-establish Immune Tolerance to Rheumatoid Arthritis in DBA/1 Mice

  • Yaqi Wang Medical School of Hebei University, Baoding, China
  • Min Zhang Medical School of Hebei University, Baoding, China
  • Shengde Chen Medical School of Hebei University, Baoding, China
  • Zheng Li Affiliated Hospital of Hebei University, Baoding, China
  • Ming Meng Medical School of Hebei University, Baoding, China
Keywords: Dendritic cells; Extracellular signal-regulated kinase; Invariant natural killer T cells; Nuclear factor kappa B; Rheumatoid arthritis


Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a type of autoimmune disease that results in immune disorder and excessive inflammatory response due to a reduction of self-tolerance. Invariant natural killer T (iNKT) cells can effectively alleviate clinical symptoms and hyper-inflammation in RA, but their mechanism of action is not well-defined. This study aims to investigate the mechanism of iNKT cell therapy for RA.

We established a DBA/1 mouse model for RA and treated it with specific iNKT cells. A cytometric bead array was used to measure the amounts of cytokines in the serum. Flow cytometry was then employed to identify different subsets of helper T cells (Th), the frequency of conventional dendritic cells (cDC), the expression of CD80, CD86, programmed cell death ligand 1 (PD-L1), and PD-L2 on cDC surfaces, and associated pathway proteins.

iNKT cell treatment reduced Th1/Th2 and Th17/ regulatory T (Treg) cell ratios while increasing interleukin-4 (IL-4) and IL-10. It enhanced the generation of immature cDCs, and it upregulated the level of PD-L2 by stimulating the Signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (STAT3) signaling pathway. Meanwhile, it activated the extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1/2 (ERK1/2) pathway and inhibited the nuclear factor kappa B (NF-κB) pathway.

According to our findings, iNKT cell treatment increased the expression of phosphates STAT3 in lymph node cDC, causing them to upregulate PD-L2 molecules. While activating the ERK1/2 pathway and inhibiting the NF-κB pathway, tolerogenic cDC was produced, restoring immune homeostasis and correcting excessive inflammation. These results deliver new insights into the treatment of RA by iNKT cells.