Mucosal-associated invariant T cells (MAIT cells) recognize bacterial metabolites as antigen and are found in blood and tissues, where they are poised to contribute to barrier immunity. Recent data demonstrate that MAIT cells located in mucosal barrier tissues are functionally distinct from their blood counterparts, but the relationship and circulation of MAIT cells between blood and different tissue compartments remains poorly understood. Previous studies raised the possibility that MAIT cells do not leave tissue and may either be retained or undergo apoptosis. To directly address if human MAIT cells exit tissues, we collected human donor–matched thoracic duct lymph and blood and analyzed MAIT cell phenotype, transcriptome, and T cell receptor (TCR) diversity by flow cytometry and RNA sequencing. We found that MAIT cells were present in the lymph, despite being largely CCR7– in the blood, thus indicating that MAIT cells in the lymph migrated from tissues and were capable of exiting tissues to recirculate. Importantly, MAIT cells in the lymph and blood had highly overlapping clonotype usage but distinct transcriptome signatures, indicative of differential activation states.
Valentin Voillet, Marcus Buggert, Chloe K. Slichter, Julia D. Berkson, Florian Mair, Mary M. Addison, Yoav Dori, Gregory Nadolski, Maxim G. Itkin, Raphael Gottardo, Michael R. Betts, Martin Prlic