Inhibiting the unconventionals: Importance of immune checkpoint receptors in γδ T, MAIT, and nkt cells

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In recent years, checkpoint inhibitor (CPI) therapy has shown promising clinical responses across a broad range of cancers. However, many patients remain unresponsive and there is need for improvement. CPI therapy relies on antibody-mediated neutralization of immune inhibitory or checkpoint receptors (ICRs) that constitutively suppress leukocytes. In this regard, the clinical outcome of CPI therapy has primarily been attributed to modulating classical MHC-restricted αβ T cell responses, yet, it will inevitably target most lymphoid (and many myeloid) populations. As such, unconventional non-MHC-restricted gamma delta (γδ) T, mucosal associated invariant T (MAIT) and natural killer T (NKT) cells express ICRs at steady-state and after activation and may thus be affected by CPI therapies. To which extent, however, remains unclear. These unconventional T cells are polyfunctional innate-like lymphocytes that play a key role in tumor immune surveillance and have a plethora of protective and pathogenic immune responses. The robust anti-tumor potential of γδ T, MAIT, and NKT cells has been established in a variety of preclinical cancer models and in clinical reports. In contrast, recent studies have documented a pro-tumor effect of innate-like T cell subsets that secrete pro-inflammatory cytokines. Consequently, understanding the mechanisms that regulate such T cells and their response to CPI is critical in designing effective cancer immunotherapies that favor anti-tumor immunity. In this Review, we will discuss the current understanding regarding the role of immune checkpoint regulation in γδ T, MAIT, and NKT cells and its importance in anti-cancer immunity.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4647
Issue number18
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Cancer
  • Immune checkpoint receptors
  • Immunotherapy
  • MAIT cells
  • NKT cells
  • γδ T cells


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