Cutaneous Squamous Cell Carcinoma Development Is Associated with a Temporal Infiltration of ILC1 and NK Cells with Immune Dysfunctions

J Invest Dermatol. 2021 Oct;141(10):2369-2379. doi: 10.1016/j.jid.2021.03.018. Epub 2021 Apr 5.


NK cells and tissue-resident innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) are innate effectors found in the skin. To investigate their temporal dynamics and specific functions throughout the development of cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (cSCC), we combined transcriptomic and immunophenotyping analyses in mouse and human cSCCs. We identified an infiltration of NK cells and ILC1s as well as the presence of a few ILC3s. Adoptive transfer of NK cells in NK cell‒ and ILC-deficient Nfil3-/- mice revealed a role for NK cells in early control of cSCC. During tumor progression, we identified a population skewing with the infiltration of atypical ILC1 secreting inflammatory cytokines but reduced levels of IFN-γ at the papilloma stage. NK cells and ILC1s were functionally impaired, with reduced cytotoxicity and IFN-γ secretion associated with the downregulation of activating receptors. They also showed a high degree of heterogeneity in mouse and human cSCCs with the expression of several markers of exhaustion, including TIGIT on NK cells and PD-1 and TIM-3 on ILC1s. Our data show an enrichment in inflammatory ILC1 at the precancerous stage together with impaired antitumor functions in NK cells and ILC1 that could contribute to the development of cSCC and thus suggest that future immunotherapies should take both ILC populations into account.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adoptive Transfer
  • Animals
  • Basic-Leucine Zipper Transcription Factors / physiology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / etiology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / immunology*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / pathology
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology
  • Killer Cells, Natural / physiology*
  • Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Lymphocytes / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Natural Cytotoxicity Triggering Receptor 1 / analysis
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Skin Neoplasms / etiology
  • Skin Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Skin Neoplasms / pathology


  • Basic-Leucine Zipper Transcription Factors
  • NCR1 protein, human
  • Natural Cytotoxicity Triggering Receptor 1
  • Nfil3 protein, mouse