Cytotoxic granzyme C-expressing ILC1s contribute to antitumor immunity and neonatal autoimmunity

Sci Immunol. 2022 Apr 8;7(70):eabi8642. doi: 10.1126/sciimmunol.abi8642. Epub 2022 Apr 8.


Innate lymphocytes are integral components of the cellular immune system that can coordinate host defense against a multitude of challenges and trigger immunopathology when dysregulated. Natural killer (NK) cells and innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) are innate immune effectors postulated to functionally mirror conventional cytotoxic T lymphocytes and helper T cells, respectively. Here, we showed that the cytolytic molecule granzyme C was expressed in cells with the phenotype of type 1 ILCs (ILC1s) in mouse liver and salivary gland. Cell fate-mapping and transfer studies revealed that granzyme C-expressing innate lymphocytes could be derived from ILC progenitors and did not interconvert with NK cells, ILC2s, or ILC3s. Granzyme C defined a maturation state of ILC1s. These granzyme C-expressing ILC1s required the transcription factors T-bet and, to a lesser extent, Eomes and support from transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) signaling for their maintenance in the salivary gland. In a transgenic mouse breast cancer model, depleting ILC1s caused accelerated tumor growth. ILC1s gained granzyme C expression following interleukin-15 (IL-15) stimulation, which enabled perforin-mediated cytotoxicity. Constitutive activation of STAT5, a transcription factor regulated by IL-15, in granzyme C-expressing ILC1s triggered lethal perforin-dependent autoimmunity in neonatal mice. Thus, granzyme C marks a cytotoxic effector state of ILC1s, broadening their function beyond "helper-like" lymphocytes.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autoimmunity
  • Granzymes
  • Immunity, Innate*
  • Interleukin-15*
  • Killer Cells, Natural
  • Mice
  • Perforin


  • Interleukin-15
  • Perforin
  • Granzymes