Mitochondrial metabolism is essential for invariant natural killer T cell development and function

Xiufang Weng, Amrendra Kumar, Liang Cao, Ying He, Eva Morgun, Lavanya Visvabharathy, Jie Zhao, Laura A. Sena, Sam E. Weinberg, Navdeep S. Chandel, Chyung Ru Wang*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Conventional T cell fate and function are determined by coordination between cellular signaling and mitochondrial metabolism. Invariant natural killer T (iNKT) cells are an important subset of “innate-like” T cells that exist in a preactivated effector state, and their dependence on mitochondrial metabolism has not been previously defined genetically or in vivo. Here, we show that mature iNKT cells have reduced mitochondrial respiratory reserve and iNKT cell development was highly sensitive to perturbation of mitochondrial function. Mice with T cell-specific ablation of Rieske iron-sulfur protein (RISP; T-Uqcrfs1/), an essential subunit of mitochondrial complex III, had a dramatic reduction of iNKT cells in the thymus and periphery, but no significant perturbation on the development of conventional T cells. The impaired development observed in T-Uqcrfs1/ mice stems from a cell-autonomous defect in iNKT cells, resulting in a differentiation block at the early stages of iNKT cell development. Residual iNKT cells in T-Uqcrfs1/− mice displayed increased apoptosis but retained the ability to proliferate in vivo, suggesting that their bioenergetic and biosynthetic demands were not compromised. However, they exhibited reduced expression of activation markers, decreased T cell receptor (TCR) signaling and impaired responses to TCR and interleukin-15 stimulation. Furthermore, knocking down RISP in mature iNKT cells diminished their cytokine production, correlating with reduced NFATc2 activity. Collectively, our data provide evidence for a critical role of mitochondrial metabolism in iNKT cell development and activation outside of its traditional role in supporting cellular bioenergetic demands.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2021385118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number13
StatePublished - Mar 30 2021


  • CD1
  • Knockout mice
  • Mitochondrial metabolism
  • NKT cells
  • T cell development

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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