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Mucosal associated invariant T (MAIT) cells were first identified as specific for bacterial, mycobacterial and fungal organisms, which detect microbially-derived biosynthetic ligands presented by MHC-related protein 1 (MR1). More recently two unexpected, additional roles have been identified for these ancient and abundant cells: a TCR-dependent role in tissue repair and a TCR-independent role in antiviral host defence. Data from several classes of viral disease shows their capability for activation by the cytokines interleukin(IL)-12 / -15 / -18 and type I interferon. MAIT cells are abundant at mucosal surfaces, particularly in the lung, and it seems likely a primary reason for their striking evolutionary conservation is an important role in early innate defence against respiratory infections, including both bacteria and viruses. Here we review evidence for their TCR-independent activation, observational human data for their activation in influenza A virus, and in vivo murine evidence of their protection against severe influenza A infection, mediated at least partially via IFN-gamma. We then survey evidence emerging from other respiratory viral infections including recent evidence for an important adjuvant role in adenovirus infection, specifically chimpanzee adenoviruses used in recent coronavirus vaccines, and data for strong associations between MAIT cell responses and adverse outcomes from coronavirus-19 (COVID-19) disease. We speculate on potential translational implications of these findings, either using corticosteroids or inhibitory ligands to suppress deleterious MAIT cell responses, or the potential utility of stimulatory MR1 ligands to boost MAIT cell frequencies to enhance innate viral defences.


Journal article


Critical Reviews in Immunology


Begell House

Publication Date



Timothy Hinks, University of Oxford, Nuffield Department of Medicine, NDM, Level 7, John Radcliffe Hospital, Headley Way, Oxford, OX3 9DU, United Kingdom


Mucosal-associated invariant T cell, virus, infection, innate, T cells, human, mouse, COVID-19