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01.12.2018 | Research article | Ausgabe 1/2018 Open Access

Breast Cancer Research 1/2018

Mucosal associated invariant T cells from human breast ducts mediate a Th17-skewed response to bacterially exposed breast carcinoma cells

Breast Cancer Research > Ausgabe 1/2018
Nicholas A. Zumwalde, Jill D. Haag, Michael N. Gould, Jenny E. Gumperz
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Electronic supplementary material

The online version of this article (https://​doi.​org/​10.​1186/​s13058-018-1036-5) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.



Antimicrobial T cells play key roles in the disease progression of cancers arising in mucosal epithelial tissues, such as the colon. However, little is known about microbe-reactive T cells within human breast ducts and whether these impact breast carcinogenesis.


Epithelial ducts were isolated from primary human breast tissue samples, and the associated T lymphocytes were characterized using flow cytometric analysis. Functional assays were performed to determine T-cell cytokine secretion in response to bacterially treated human breast carcinoma cells.


We show that human breast epithelial ducts contain mucosal associated invariant T (MAIT) cells, an innate T-cell population that recognizes specific bacterial metabolites presented by nonclassical MR1 antigen-presenting molecules. The MAIT cell population from breast ducts resembled that of peripheral blood in its innate lymphocyte phenotype (i.e., CD161, PLZF, and interleukin [IL]-18 receptor coexpression), but the breast duct MAIT cell population had a distinct T-cell receptor Vβ use profile and was markedly enriched for IL-17-producing cells compared with blood MAIT cells. Breast carcinoma cells that had been exposed to Escherichia coli activated MAIT cells in an MR1-dependent manner. However, whereas phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate/ionomycin stimulation induced the production of both interferon-γ and IL-17 by breast duct MAIT cells, bacterially exposed breast carcinoma cells elicited a strongly IL-17-biased response. Breast carcinoma cells also showed upregulated expression of natural killer group 2 member D (NKG2D) ligands compared with primary breast epithelial cells, and the NKG2D receptor contributed to MAIT cell activation by the carcinoma cells.


These results demonstrate that MAIT cells from human breast ducts mediate a selective T-helper 17 cell response to human breast carcinoma cells that were exposed to E. coli. Thus, cues from the breast microbiome and the expression of stress-associated ligands by neoplastic breast duct epithelial cells may shape MAIT cell responses during breast carcinogenesis.
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