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Expressed on epidermal Langerhans cells, CD1a presents a range of self-lipid antigens found within the skin; however, the extent to which CD1a presents microbial ligands from bacteria colonizing the skin is unclear. Here we identified CD1a-dependent T cell responses to phosphatidylglycerol (PG), a ubiquitous bacterial membrane phospholipid, as well as to lysylPG, a modified PG, present in several Gram-positive bacteria and highly abundant in Staphylococcus aureus. The crystal structure of the CD1a-PG complex showed that the acyl chains were buried within the A'- and F'-pockets of CD1a, while the phosphoglycerol headgroup remained solvent exposed in the F'-portal and was available for T cell receptor contact. Using lysylPG and PG-loaded CD1a tetramers, we identified T cells in peripheral blood and in skin that respond to these lipids in a dose-dependent manner. Tetramer+CD4+ T cell lines secreted type 2 helper T cell cytokines in response to phosphatidylglycerols as well as to co-cultures of CD1a+ dendritic cells and Staphylococcus bacteria. The expansion in patients with atopic dermatitis of CD4+ CD1a-(lysyl)PG tetramer+ T cells suggests a response to lipids made by bacteria associated with atopic dermatitis and provides a link supporting involvement of PG-based lipid-activated T cells in atopic dermatitis pathogenesis.

Original publication




Journal article


Nature immunology

Publication Date



Department of Dermatology, Columbia University Irving Medical Center, New York, NY, USA.