A committed precursor to innate lymphoid cells

Nature advance online publication 09 February 2014. doi:10.1038/nature13047

Authors: Michael G. Constantinides, Benjamin D. McDonald, Philip A. Verhoef & Albert Bendelac

Innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) specialize in the rapid secretion of polarized sets of cytokines and chemokines to combat infection and promote tissue repair at mucosal barriers. Their diversity and similarities with previously characterized natural killer (NK) cells and lymphoid tissue inducers (LTi) have prompted a provisional classification of all innate lymphocytes into groups 1, 2 and 3 solely on the basis of cytokine properties, but their developmental pathways and lineage relationships remain elusive. Here we identify and characterize a novel subset of lymphoid precursors in mouse fetal liver and adult bone marrow that transiently express high amounts of PLZF, a transcription factor previously associated with NK T cell development, by using lineage tracing and transfer studies. PLZFhigh cells were committed ILC progenitors with multiple ILC1, ILC2 and ILC3 potential at the clonal level. They excluded classical LTi and NK cells, but included a peculiar subset of NK1.1+DX5− ‘NK-like’ cells residing in the liver. Deletion of PLZF markedly altered the development of several ILC subsets, but not LTi or NK cells. PLZFhigh precursors also expressed high amounts of ID2 and GATA3, as well as TOX, a known regulator of PLZF-independent NK and LTi lineages. These findings establish novel lineage relationships between ILC, NK and LTi cells, and identify the common precursor to ILCs, termed ILCP. They also reveal the broad, defining role of PLZF in the differentiation of innate lymphocytes.