A committed precursor to innate lymphoid cells

Nature. 2014 Apr 17;508(7496):397-401. doi: 10.1038/nature13047. Epub 2014 Feb 9.


Innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) specialize in the rapid secretion of polarized sets of cytokines and chemokines to combat infection and promote tissue repair at mucosal barriers. Their diversity and similarities with previously characterized natural killer (NK) cells and lymphoid tissue inducers (LTi) have prompted a provisional classification of all innate lymphocytes into groups 1, 2 and 3 solely on the basis of cytokine properties, but their developmental pathways and lineage relationships remain elusive. Here we identify and characterize a novel subset of lymphoid precursors in mouse fetal liver and adult bone marrow that transiently express high amounts of PLZF, a transcription factor previously associated with NK T cell development, by using lineage tracing and transfer studies. PLZF(high) cells were committed ILC progenitors with multiple ILC1, ILC2 and ILC3 potential at the clonal level. They excluded classical LTi and NK cells, but included a peculiar subset of NK1.1(+)DX5(-) 'NK-like' cells residing in the liver. Deletion of PLZF markedly altered the development of several ILC subsets, but not LTi or NK cells. PLZF(high) precursors also expressed high amounts of ID2 and GATA3, as well as TOX, a known regulator of PLZF-independent NK and LTi lineages. These findings establish novel lineage relationships between ILC, NK and LTi cells, and identify the common precursor to ILCs, termed ILCP. They also reveal the broad, defining role of PLZF in the differentiation of innate lymphocytes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bone Marrow Cells / cytology
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Lineage*
  • GATA3 Transcription Factor / metabolism
  • HMGB Proteins / metabolism
  • Inhibitor of Differentiation Protein 2 / metabolism
  • Killer Cells, Natural / cytology
  • Kruppel-Like Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Liver / cytology
  • Liver / embryology
  • Lymphocytes / cytology*
  • Mice
  • Natural Killer T-Cells / cytology
  • Promyelocytic Leukemia Zinc Finger Protein
  • Stem Cells / cytology*


  • GATA3 Transcription Factor
  • Gata3 protein, mouse
  • HMGB Proteins
  • Idb2 protein, mouse
  • Inhibitor of Differentiation Protein 2
  • Kruppel-Like Transcription Factors
  • Promyelocytic Leukemia Zinc Finger Protein
  • Tox HMB-box protein, mouse
  • Zbtb16 protein, mouse