Correlates of immune protection that reliably predict vaccine efficacy against Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) infection are urgently needed. Invariant NKT cells (iNKTs) are CD1d-dependent innate T cells that augment host antimicrobial immunity through production of cytokines, including interferon (IFN)-γ and tumour necrosis factor (TNF)-α. We determined peripheral blood iNKT numbers, their proliferative responses and iNKT subset proportions after in vitro antigen expansion by α-galactosylceramide (αGC) in a large cohort of mycobacteria-naïve non-human primates, and macaques from Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine and Mtb challenge studies. Animals studied included four genetically distinct groups of macaques within cynomolgus and rhesus species that differ in their susceptibility to Mtb infection. We demonstrate significant differences in ex vivo iNKT frequency between groups, which trends towards an association with susceptibility to Mtb, but no significant difference in overall iNKT proliferative responses. Susceptible animals exhibited a skewed CD4+/CD8+ iNKT subset ratio in comparison to more Mtb-resistant groups. Correlation of iNKT subsets post BCG vaccination with clinical disease manifestations following Mtb challenge in the Chinese cynomolgus and Indian rhesus macaques identified a consistent trend linking increased CD8+ iNKTs with favourable disease outcome. Finally, a similar iNKT profile was conferred by BCG vaccination in rhesus macaques. Our study provides the first detailed characterisation of iNKT cells in macaque tuberculosis infection, suggesting that iNKT repertoire differences may impact on disease outcome, which warrants further investigation.
- Correlates of protection