CD161 defines a transcriptional and functional phenotype across distinct human T cell lineages.
Fergusson JR., Smith KE., Fleming VM., Rajoriya N., Newell EW., Simmons R., Marchi E., Björkander S., Kang Y-H., Swadling L., Kurioka A., Sahgal N., Lockstone H., Baban D., Freeman GJ., Sverremark-Ekström E., Davis MM., Davenport MP., Venturi V., Ussher JE., Willberg CB., Klenerman P.
The C-type lectin CD161 is expressed by a large proportion of human T lymphocytes of all lineages, including a population known as mucosal-associated invariant T (MAIT) cells. To understand whether different T cell subsets expressing CD161 have similar properties, we examined these populations in parallel using mass cytometry and mRNA microarray approaches. The analysis identified a conserved CD161++/MAIT cell transcriptional signature enriched in CD161+CD8+ T cells, which can be extended to CD161+ CD4+ and CD161+TCRγδ+ T cells. Furthermore, this led to the identification of a shared innate-like, TCR-independent response to interleukin (IL)-12 plus IL-18 by different CD161-expressing T cell populations. This response was independent of regulation by CD161, which acted as a costimulatory molecule in the context of T cell receptor stimulation. Expression of CD161 hence identifies a transcriptional and functional phenotype, shared across human T lymphocytes and independent of both T cell receptor (TCR) expression and cell lineage.