Discovery of specialized NK cell populations infiltrating human melanoma metastases

JCI Insight. 2019 Dec 5;4(23):e133103. doi: 10.1172/jci.insight.133103.


NK cells contribute to protective antitumor immunity, but little is known about the functional states of NK cells in human solid tumors. To address this issue, we performed single-cell RNA-seq analysis of NK cells isolated from human melanoma metastases, including lesions from patients who had progressed following checkpoint blockade. This analysis identified major differences in the transcriptional programs of tumor-infiltrating compared with circulating NK cells. Tumor-infiltrating NK cells represented 7 clusters with distinct gene expression programs indicative of significant functional specialization, including cytotoxicity and chemokine synthesis programs. In particular, NK cells from 3 clusters expressed high levels of XCL1 and XCL2, which encode 2 chemokines known to recruit XCR1+ cross-presenting DCs into tumors. In contrast, NK cells from 2 other clusters showed a higher level of expression of cytotoxicity genes. These data reveal key features of NK cells in human tumors and identify NK cell populations with specialized gene expression programs.

Keywords: Immunology; Innate immunity; Melanoma; NK cells; Oncology.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Chemokines / genetics
  • Chemokines / metabolism
  • Chemokines, C
  • Cross-Priming
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic*
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology*
  • Lymphocytes, Tumor-Infiltrating / immunology*
  • Melanoma / genetics*
  • Melanoma / immunology*
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / immunology*


  • Chemokines
  • Chemokines, C
  • XCL1 protein, human
  • XCL2 protein, human