Roles of NKT cells in cancer immunotherapy

  • Eun-Ah Bae
  • Hyungseok Seo
  • Il-Kyu Kim
  • Insu Jeon
  • Chang-Yuil KangEmail author


Cancer immunotherapy has emerged as an effective therapeutic strategy to treat cancer. Among diverse immune populations, invariant natural killer T (iNKT) cells have shown potent antitumor activity by linking innate and adaptive immune systems. Upon activation by lipid antigens on CD1d molecules, iNKT cells rapidly produce various cytokines and trigger antitumor immunity directly or indirectly by activating other antitumor immune cells. Administration of a representative iNKT cell ligand alpha-galactosylceramide (α-GalCer) or α-GalCer-pulsed APCs effectively stimulates iNKT cells and thereby induces antitumor effects. In this review, we will introduce the biology and importance of NKT cells in antitumor immunity. Previous studies have demonstrated that iNKT cells not only activate various immune cells but also reinvigorate exhausted immune cells in the tumor microenvironment. Furthermore, we will summarize the major clinical trials utilizing iNKT-based immunotherapies.


Invariant natural killer T (iNKT) cell Cancer immunotherapy Alpha-galactosylceramide (α-GalCer) CD1d Tumor immunology 



This work was supported by grants from the Basic Science Research Program (NRF-2015R1A2A1A10055844) and the Bio & Medical Technology Development Program (NRF-2016M3A9B5941426).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

All authors declare no potential conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© The Pharmaceutical Society of Korea 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eun-Ah Bae
    • 1
  • Hyungseok Seo
    • 1
    • 2
  • Il-Kyu Kim
    • 1
    • 2
  • Insu Jeon
    • 1
  • Chang-Yuil Kang
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.Laboratory of Immunology, Department of Molecular Medicine and Biopharmaceutical Sciences, Graduate School of Convergence Science and Technology, and College of PharmacySeoul National UniversitySeoulRepublic of Korea
  2. 2.Laboratory of Immunology, Research Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, College of PharmacySeoul National UniversitySeoulRepublic of Korea

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