Unconventional or Preset αβ T Cells: Evolutionarily Conserved Tissue-Resident T Cells Recognizing Nonpeptidic Ligands
A majority of T cells bearing the αβ T cell receptor (TCR) are specific for peptides bound to polymorphic classical major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules. Smaller subsets of T cells are reactive toward various nonpeptidic ligands associated with nonpolymorphic MHC class-Ib (MHC-Ib) molecules. These cells have been termed unconventional for decades, even though only the composite antigen is different from the one seen by classical T cells. Herein, we discuss the identity of these particular T cells in light of the coevolution of their TCR and MHC-Ib restricting elements. We examine their original thymic development: selection on hematopoietic cells leading to the acquisition of an original differentiation program. Most of these cells acquire memory cell features during thymic maturation and exhibit unique patterns of migration into peripheral nonlymphoid tissues to become tissue resident. Thus, these cells are termed preset T cells, as they also display a variety of effector functions. They may act as microbial or danger sentinels, fight microbes, or regulate tissue homeostasis.