Characterization of Human Mucosal-associated Invariant T (MAIT) Cells

Michael N.T. Souter, Liyen Loh, Shihan Li, Bronwyn S. Meehan, Nicholas A. Gherardin, Dale I. Godfrey, Jamie Rossjohn, David P. Fairlie, Katherine Kedzierska, Daniel G. Pellicci, Zhenjun Chen, Lars Kjer-Nielsen, Alexandra J. Corbett, James McCluskey, Sidonia B.G. Eckle

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Mucosal-associated invariant T (MAIT) cells are a subset of unconventional T cells restricted by the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I–like molecule MHC-related protein 1 (MR1). MAIT cells are found throughout the body, especially in human blood and liver. Unlike conventional T cells, which are stimulated by peptide antigens presented by MHC molecules, MAIT cells recognize metabolite antigens derived from an intermediate in the microbial biosynthesis of riboflavin. MAIT cells mediate protective immunity to infections by riboflavin-producing microbes via the production of cytokines and cytotoxicity. The discovery of stimulating MAIT cell antigens allowed for the development of an analytical tool, the MR1 tetramer, that binds specifically to the MAIT T cell receptor (TCR) and is becoming the gold standard for identification of MAIT cells by flow cytometry. This article describes protocols to characterize the phenotype of human MAIT cells in blood and tissues by flow cytometry using fluorescently labeled human MR1 tetramers alongside antibodies specific for MAIT cell markers.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere90
Number of pages61
JournalCurrent Protocols in Immunology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019


  • antigen
  • flow cytometry
  • human
  • immune system
  • MAIT cells
  • metabolite
  • MR1
  • riboflavin
  • tetramer

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