Invariant natural killer T cells (iNKT) cells are T lymphocytes displaying innate effector functions, acquired through a distinct thymic developmental program regulated by microRNAs (miRNAs). Deleting miRNAs by Dicer ablation (Dicer KO) in thymocytes selectively impairs iNKT cell survival and functional differentiation. To unravel this miRNA-dependent program, we systemically identified transcripts that were differentially expressed between WT and Dicer KO iNKT cells at different differentiation stages and predicted to be targeted by the iNKT cell-specific miRNAs. TGF-β receptor II (TGF-βRII), critically implicated in iNKT cell differentiation, was found up-regulated in iNKT Dicer KO cells together with enhanced TGF-β signaling. miRNA members of the miR-17-92 family clusters were predicted to target Tgfbr2 mRNA upon iNKT cell development. iNKT cells lacking all three miR-17-92 family clusters (miR-17-92, miR-106a-363, miR-106b-25) phenocopied both increased TGF-βRII expression and signaling, and defective effector differentiation, displayed by iNKT Dicer KO cells. Consistently, genetic ablation of TGF-β signaling in the absence of miRNAs rescued iNKT cell differentiation. These results elucidate the global impact of miRNAs on the iNKT cell developmental program and uncover the targeting of a lineage-specific cytokine signaling by miRNAs as a mechanism regulating innate-like T-cell development and effector differentiation.
- NKT cells