The function and importance of a little known immune cell has come to light in work published online this week in Nature Immunology.
As their name suggests, mucosa-associated invariant T cells (MAITs) are found primarily at the body's mucosal surfaces such as the gut and lungs. Olivier Lantz and colleagues demonstrate that mice lacking these cells are more susceptible to bacterial infections such as Mycobacterium abscessus. In humans, the number of MAIT cells is reduced in peripheral blood from patients with infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, while they are detected at the site of infection.
Because this cell type is abundant in humans, and they have wide anti-microbial activity, MAIT cell manipulation could have an impact on vaccine and therapeutic drug development against infectious diseases.