NCR group 3 innate lymphoid cells orchestrate IL-23/IL-17 axis to promote hepatocellular carcinoma development

Yonghao Liu, Yuan Song, Dandan Lin, Lei Lei, Yu Mei, Ziqi Jin, Huanle Gong, Ying Zhu, Bo Hu, Yinsheng Zhang, Lixiang Zhao, Huey Yee Teo, Ju Qiu, Wen Jiang, Chen Dong, Depei Wu, Yuhui Huang, Haiyan Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Background: Innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) are a newly discovered family of immune cells that have similar cytokine-secreting profiles as T helper cell subsets. Although ILCs are critical for host defense against infections and tissue homeostasis, their roles in tumor development are not well established. Methods: We studied the function of ILC3 cells in the liver for the development of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) in murine HCC models using flow cytometry, adoptive transfer, and in vitro functional assays. Findings: We found that ILC3 lacking the natural cytotoxicity-triggering receptor (NCR ILC3) promoted the development of HCC in response to interleukin 23 (IL-23). IL-23 serum level is elevated in HCC patients and its high expression is associated with poor clinical outcomes. We found that IL-23 could promote tumor development in murine HCC tumor models. IL-23 promoted the expansion of NCR ILC3 and its differentiation from group 1 ILCs (ILC1s). Furthermore, NCR ILC3 initiated IL-17 production upon IL-23 stimulation and directly inhibited CD8 + T cell immunity by promoting lymphocyte apoptosis and limiting their proliferation. Interpretation: Together, our findings suggest that NCR ILC3 initiates the IL-17-rich immunosuppressive tumor microenvironment and promotes the development of HCC, thus may serve as a promising target for future cancer immunotherapy. Fund: This work was supported by grants from National Natural Science Foundation of China (81471586, 81571556), the Priority Academic Program Development of Jiangsu Higher Education Institutions, the collaborative Innovation Center of Hematology, start-up grant from National University of Singapore, the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas CPRIT (RR180017), and the National Cancer Institute's Cancer Center Support (Core) Grant CA016672 (to The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)333-344
Number of pages12
StatePublished - Mar 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • HCC
  • IL-17
  • IL-23
  • ILC
  • Tumor microenvironment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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