The processing and presentation of lipids and glycolipids to the immune system

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Abstract

The recognition of CD1–lipid complexes by T cells was discovered 20 years ago and has since been an emerging and expanding field of investigation. Unlike protein antigens, which are presented on MHC class I and II molecules, lipids can only be presented by CD1 molecules, a unique family of MHC-like proteins whose singularity is a hydrophobic antigen-binding groove. The processing and loading of lipid antigens inside this groove of CD1 molecules require localization to endosomal and lysosomal subcellular compartments and their acidic pHs. This particular environment provides the necessary glycolytic enzymes and lipases that process lipid and glycolipid antigens, as well as a set of lipid transfer proteins that load the final version of the antigen inside the groove of CD1. The overall sequence of events needed for efficient presentation of lipid antigens is now understood and presented in this review. However, a large number of important details have been elusive. This elusiveness is linked to the inherent technical difficulties of studying lipids and the lipid–protein interface in vitro and in vivo. Here, we will expose some of those limitations and describe new approaches to address them during the characterization of lipids and glycolipids antigen presentation.

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