Delineating spatiotemporal and hierarchical development of human fetal innate lymphoid cells

Cell Res. 2021 Oct;31(10):1106-1122. doi: 10.1038/s41422-021-00529-2. Epub 2021 Jul 8.


Whereas the critical roles of innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) in adult are increasingly appreciated, their developmental hierarchy in early human fetus remains largely elusive. In this study, we sorted human hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells, lymphoid progenitors, putative ILC progenitor/precursors and mature ILCs in the fetal hematopoietic, lymphoid and non-lymphoid tissues, from 8 to 12 post-conception weeks, for single-cell RNA-sequencing, followed by computational analysis and functional validation at bulk and single-cell levels. We delineated the early phase of ILC lineage commitment from hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells, which mainly occurred in fetal liver and intestine. We further unveiled interleukin-3 receptor as a surface marker for the lymphoid progenitors in fetal liver with T, B, ILC and myeloid potentials, while IL-3RA- lymphoid progenitors were predominantly B-lineage committed. Notably, we determined the heterogeneity and tissue distribution of each ILC subpopulation, revealing the proliferating characteristics shared by the precursors of each ILC subtype. Additionally, a novel unconventional ILC2 subpopulation (CRTH2- CCR9+ ILC2) was identified in fetal thymus. Taken together, our study illuminates the precise cellular and molecular features underlying the stepwise formation of human fetal ILC hierarchy with remarkable spatiotemporal heterogeneity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Differentiation
  • Fetus
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cells
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate*
  • Lymphocytes*