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Natural killer T cell

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Natural killer T cells (NKT) are cells formed from small lymphocytes. They are a type of T cell, and are different from natural killer cells (NK). NKT cells are important, but make up only 0.1% of all peripheral blood T cells.[1]

NKT cells are a subset of T cells which also have molecular markers normally associated with NK cells. They are important in recognizing glycolipids from organisms such as mycobacterium, which cause tuberculosis.

NKT cells seem to be essential for several aspects of immunity because their dysfunction or deficiency leads to the development of autoimmune diseases (such as diabetes and atherosclerosis) and cancer. NKT cells have recently been implicated in the disease progression of human asthma.[2]

The clinical potential of NKT cells lies in the rapid release of cytokines that promote or suppress different immune responses.


  1. Jerud, ES; Bricard G, Porcelli SA (2006). "Natural Killer T cells: Roles in tumor immunosurveillance and tolerance". Transfus. Med. Hemother. 33 (1): 18–36. doi:10.1159/000090193 . 
  2. Cromie, William J. Researchers uncover cause of asthma Archived 2006-04-05 at the Wayback Machine Harvard University Gazette, March 16, 2006.