Tissue-resident Eomes+ NK cells are the major innate lymphoid cell population in human infant intestine

Nat Commun. 2019 Feb 28;10(1):975. doi: 10.1038/s41467-018-08267-7.


Innate lymphoid cells (ILC), including natural killer (NK) cells, are implicated in host-defense and tissue-growth. However, the composition and kinetics of NK cells in the intestine during the first year of life, when infants are first broadly exposed to exogenous antigens, are still unclear. Here we show that CD103+ NK cells are the major ILC population in the small intestines of infants. When compared to adult intestinal NK cells, infant intestinal NK cells exhibit a robust effector phenotype, characterized by Eomes, perforin and granzyme B expression, and superior degranulation capacity. Absolute intestinal NK cell numbers decrease gradually during the first year of life, coinciding with an influx of intestinal Eomes+ T cells; by contrast, epithelial NKp44+CD69+ NK cells with less cytotoxic capacity persist in adults. In conclusion, NK cells are abundant in infant intestines, where they can provide effector functions while Eomes+ T cell responses mature.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Antigens, CD / metabolism
  • Granzymes / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate
  • Immunophenotyping
  • Infant
  • Integrin alpha Chains / metabolism
  • Intestines / cytology*
  • Intestines / growth & development
  • Intestines / immunology*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / classification
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / metabolism
  • Middle Aged
  • NK Cell Lectin-Like Receptor Subfamily C / metabolism
  • Perforin / metabolism
  • T-Box Domain Proteins / metabolism*
  • Tissue Distribution


  • Antigens, CD
  • EOMES protein, human
  • Integrin alpha Chains
  • KLRC1 protein, human
  • NK Cell Lectin-Like Receptor Subfamily C
  • T-Box Domain Proteins
  • alpha E integrins
  • Perforin
  • Granzymes