The signals guiding differentiation of innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) within tissues are not well understood. Salivary gland (SG) ILCs as well as liver and intestinal intraepithelial ILC1 have markers that denote tissue residency and transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) imprinting. We deletedTgfbr2in cells expressing the ILC and NK marker NKp46 and found that SG ILCs were reduced in number. They lost distinct tissue markers, such as CD49a, and the effector molecules TRAIL and CD73. Expression of the transcription factor Eomes, which promotes NK cell differentiation, was elevated. Conversely,Eomesdeletion in NKp46+ cells enhanced TGF-β-imprinting of SG ILCs. Thus, TGF-β induces SG ILC differentiation by suppressing Eomes. TGF-β acted through a JNK-dependent, Smad4-independent pathway. Transcriptome analysis demonstrated that SG ILCs had characteristic of both NK cells and ILC1. Finally, TGF-β imprinting of SG ILCs was synchronized with SG development, highlighting the impact of tissue microenvironment on ILC development.
Group 1 ILCs are heterogeneous. Colonna and colleagues show that salivary glands (SG) contain a population of group 1 ILCs distinct from NK cells and ILC1. The unique phenotype, transcriptome, and function of SG ILC depend upon TGF-β. Because SG development also requires TGF-β, ILC and SG differentiation are linked.