After traumatic injury, some cells function as detectors to sense injury and to modulate the local immune response toward a restitution phase by affecting the local cytokine milieu. Using intravital microscopy, we observed that patrolling invariant natural killer T (iNKT) cells were initially excluded from a site of hepatic injury but subsequently were strategically arrested first via self-antigens and then by cytokines, circumscribing the injured site at exactly the location where monocytes co-localized and hepatocytes proliferated. Activation of iNKT cells by self-antigens resulted in the production of interleukin-4 (IL-4) but not interferon-γ (IFN-γ). This promoted increased hepatocyte proliferation, monocyte transition (from Ly6Chi to Ly6Clo), and improved healing where IL-4 from iNKT cells was critical for these processes. Disruption of any of these mechanisms led to delayed wound healing. We have shown that self-antigen-driven iNKT cells function as sensors and orchestrators of the transformation from inflammation to tissue restitution for essential timely wound repair.
iNKT cells are important innate regulatory cells that modulate health and disease. In focal sterile injury in the liver, Liew et al. demonstrate that iNKT cells function as detectors and orchestrators of immunity and tissue repair by coordinating the transition from inflammation to resolution and thus leading to healthy wound repair.