Mucosal Associated Invariant T (MAIT) cells can sense intracellular infection by a broad array of pathogens. These cells are activated upon encountering microbial antigen(s) displayed by MR1 on the surface of an infected cell. Human MR1 undergoes alternative splicing. The full-length isoform, MR1A, can activate MAIT cells, while the function of the isoforms, MR1B and MR1C, are incompletely understood. In this report, we sought to characterize the expression and function of these splice variants. Using a transcriptomic analysis in conjunction with qPCR, we find that that MR1A and MR1B transcripts are widely expressed. However only MR1A can present mycobacterial antigen to MAIT cells. Coexpression of MR1B with MR1A decreases MAIT cell activation following bacterial infection. Additionally, expression of MR1B prior to MR1A lowers total MR1A abundance, suggesting competition between MR1A and MR1B for either ligands or chaperones required for folding and/or trafficking. Finally, we evaluated CD4/CD8 double positive thymocytes expressing surface MR1. Here, we find that relative expression of MR1A/MR1B transcript is associated with the prevalence of MR1 + CD4/CD8 cells in the thymus. Our results suggest alternative splicing of MR1 represents a means of regulating MAIT activation in response to microbial ligand(s).
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