American journal of respiratory cell and molecular biology

Pulmonary natural killer T cells play an essential role in mediating hyperoxic acute lung injury.

PMID 23349052


Critically ill patients are routinely exposed to high concentrations of supplemental oxygen for prolonged periods of time, which can be life-saving in the short term, but such exposure also causes severe lung injury and increases mortality. To address this therapeutic dilemma, we studied the mechanisms of the tissue-damaging effects of oxygen in mice. We show that pulmonary invariant natural killer T (iNKT) cells are unexpectedly crucial in the development of acute oxygen-induced lung injury. iNKT cells express high concentrations of the ectonucleotidase CD39, which regulates their state of activation. Both iNKT cell-deficient (Jα18(-/-)) and CD39-null mice tolerate hyperoxia, compared with wild-type control mice that exhibit severe lung injury. An adoptive transfer of wild-type iNKT cells into Jα18(-/-) mice results in hyperoxic lung injury, whereas the transfer of CD39-null iNKT cells does not. Pulmonary iNKT cell activation and proliferation are modulated by ATP-dependent purinergic signaling responses. Hyperoxic lung injury can be induced by selective P2X7-receptor blockade in CD39-null mice. Our data indicate that iNKT cells are involved in the pathogenesis of hyperoxic lung injury, and that tissue protection can be mediated through ATP-induced P2X7 receptor signaling, resulting in iNKT cell death. In conclusion, our data suggest that iNKT cells and purinergic signaling should be evaluated as potential novel therapeutic targets to prevent hyperoxic lung injury.