The role of mucosal associated invariant T cells in antimicrobial immunity

Ruth J. Napier, Erin J. Adams, Marielle C. Gold, David M. Lewinsohn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

87 Scopus citations


Mucosal associated invariant T (MAIT) cells are an innate-like T cell subset prevalent in humans and distributed throughout the blood and mucosal sites. Human MAIT cells are defined by the expression of the semi-invariant TCRα chain TRAV1-2/TRAJ12/20/33 and are restricted by the non-polymorphic major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class Ilike molecule, MHC-related protein 1, MR1. MAIT cells are activated by small organic molecules, derived from the riboflavin biosynthesis pathway of bacteria and fungi, presented by MR1. Traditionally, MAIT cells were thought to recognize a limited number of antigens due to usage of an invariant TCRα chain and restriction by a nonpolymorphic MHC molecule. However, recent studies demonstrate that the TCR repertoire of MAIT cells is more heterogeneous suggesting there is a more diverse array of MR1 antigens that MAIT cells can recognize. In response to infected cells, MAIT cells produce the pro-inflammatory cytokines IFN-γ and TNF and are cytolytic. Studies performed in MR1-deficient mice suggest that MAIT cells can provide anti-bacterial control within the first few days post-infection, as well as contribute to enhanced adaptive immunity in murine models of respiratory infections. In humans, the role of MAIT cells is unclear; however evidence points to interplay between MAIT cells and microbial infections, including Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Given that MAIT cells are proinflammatory, serve in early control of bacterial infections, and appear enriched at tissue sites where microbes interface and gain access to the body, we postulate that they play an important role in antimicrobial immune responses. In this review we discuss the most recent studies on the function and phenotype of MAIT cells, including their TCR diversity and antigenic repertoire, with a focus on the contribution of human MAIT cells in the immune response to microbial infection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number344
JournalFrontiers in immunology
Issue numberJUN
StatePublished - 2015


  • Antimicrobial
  • Immunity
  • MAIT cells
  • MR1
  • Mucosal associated invariant T cells

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


Dive into the research topics of 'The role of mucosal associated invariant T cells in antimicrobial immunity'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this