CD1a-autoreactive T cells contribute to skin disease, but the identity of immunodominant self-lipid antigens and their mode of recognition are not yet solved. In most models, MHC and CD1 proteins serve as display platforms for smaller antigens. Here, we showed that CD1a tetramers without added antigen stained large T cell pools in every subject tested, accounting for approximately 1% of skin T cells. The mechanism of tetramer binding to T cells did not require any defined antigen. Binding occurred with approximately 100 lipid ligands carried by CD1a proteins, but could be tuned upward or downward with certain natural self-lipids. TCR recognition mapped to the outer A′ roof of CD1a at sites remote from the antigen exit portal, explaining how TCRs can bind CD1a rather than carried lipids. Thus, a major antigenic target of CD1a T cell autoreactivity in vivo is CD1a itself. Based on their high frequency and prevalence among donors, we conclude that CD1a-specific, lipid-independent T cells are a normal component of the human skin T cell repertoire. Bypassing the need to select antigens and effector molecules, CD1a tetramers represent a simple method to track such CD1a-specific T cells from tissues and in any clinical disease.
Rachel N. Cotton, Tan-Yun Cheng, Marcin Wegrecki, Jérôme Le Nours, Dennis P. Orgill, Bohdan Pomahac, Simon G. Talbot, Richard A. Willis, John D. Altman, Annemieke de Jong, Graham Ogg, Ildiko Van Rhijn, Jamie Rossjohn, Rachael A. Clark, D. Branch Moody