Niemann-Pick type C2 protein; isoglobotrihexosylceramide; CD1d molecules; thymic selection; NKT cells; lysosomal protein; cholesterol; sphingolipid transport
The Niemann-Pick type C2 (NPC2) protein is a small, soluble, lysosomal protein important for cholesterol and sphingolipid transport in the lysosome. The immunological phenotype of NPC2-deficient mice was limited to an impaired thymic selection of Valpha 14 natural killer T cells (NKT cells) and a subsequent reduction of NKT cells in the periphery. The remaining NKT cells failed to produce measurable quantities of interferon-gamma in vivo and in vitro after activation with alpha-galactosylceramide. In addition, thymocytes and splenocytes from NPC2-deficient mice were poor presenters of endogenous and exogenous lipids to CD1d-restricted Valpha 14 hybridoma cells. Importantly, we determined that similar to saposins, recombinant NPC2 was able to unload lipids from and load lipids into CD1d. This transfer activity was associated with a dimeric form of NPC2, suggesting a unique mechanism of glycosphingolipid transfer by NPC2. Similar to saposin B, NPC2 dimers were able to load isoglobotrihexosylceramide (iGb3), the natural selecting ligand of NKT cells in the thymus, into CD1d. These observations strongly suggested that the phenotype observed in NPC2-deficient animals was directly linked to the efficiency of the loading of iGb3 into CD1d molecules expressed by thymocytes. This conclusion was supported by the rescue of endogenous and exogenous iGb3 presentation by recombinant NPC2. Thus, the loading of endogenous and exogenous lipids and glycolipids onto CD1d is dependent on various small, soluble lipid transfer proteins present in the lysosome.