Characterization and Quantification of Innate Lymphoid Cell Subsets in Human Lung

PLoS One. 2016 Jan 4;11(1):e0145961. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0145961. eCollection 2016.


Background: Innate lymphoid cells (ILC) are a new family of innate immune cells that have emerged as important regulators of tissue homeostasis and inflammation. However, limited data are available concerning the relative abundance and characteristics of ILC in the human lung.

Methods: The aim of this study was to characterize and enumerate the different ILC subsets in human lung by multi-color flow cytometry.

Results: Within the CD45+ Lin- CD127+ pulmonary ILC population, we identified group 1 (ILC1), group 2 (ILC2) and group 3 (ILC3) innate lymphoid cells using specific surface markers (i.e. IL12Rβ2, CRTH2 and CD117 respectively) and key transcription factors (i.e. T-bet, GATA-3 and RORγT respectively). Based on the presence of NKp44, ILC3 were further subdivided in natural cytotoxicity receptor (NCR)+ and NCR- ILC3. In addition, we demonstrated the production of signature cytokines IFN-γ, IL-5, IL-17A, IL-22 and GM-CSF in the pulmonary ILC population. Interestingly, we observed a tendency to a higher frequency of NCR- ILC3 in lungs of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) compared with controls.

Conclusions: We show that the three main ILC subsets are present in human lung. Importantly, the relative abundance of ILC subsets tended to change in COPD patients in comparison to control individuals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cytokines / biosynthesis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate*
  • Leukocyte Common Antigens / immunology
  • Lung / immunology*
  • Lymphocyte Subsets*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged


  • Cytokines
  • Leukocyte Common Antigens

Grants and funding

This project is supported by the Interuniversity Attraction Poles Programme (IUAP) - Belgian State - Belgian Science Policy (P7/30), Concerted Research Action of the Ghent University (BOF/GOA, 01G02714) and by the Fund for Scientific Research - Flanders (FWO-Vlaanderen, G.0897.12). SP is a postdoctoral researcher of the Fund for Scientific Research - Flanders. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.