Activation of invariant natural killer T (iNKT) cells by α-galactosylceramides (α-GalCers) stimulates strong immune responses and potent anti-tumor immunity. Numerous modifications of the glycolipid structure have been assessed to derive activating ligands for these T cells with altered and potentially advantageous properties in the induction of immune responses. Here, we synthesized variants of the prototypical α-GalCer, KRN7000, with amide-linked phenyl alkane substitutions on the C4″-position of the galactose ring. We show that these variants have weak iNKT cell stimulating activity in mouse models but substantially greater activity for human iNKT cells. The most active of the C4″-amides in our study showed strong anti-tumor effects in a partially humanized mouse model for iNKT cell responses. In silico analysis suggested that the tether length and degree of flexibility of the amide substituent affected the recognition by iNKT cell antigen receptors of the C4″-amide substituted glycolipids in complex with their antigen presenting molecule CD1d. Our findings establish the use of stable C4″-amide linked additions to the sugar moiety for further exploration of the immunological effects of structural modifications of iNKT cell activating glycolipids and highlight the critical need for more accurate animal models to assess these compounds for immunotherapeutic potential in humans.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Medicine