The nature of gut intraepithelial lymphocytes (IELs) lacking antigen receptors remains controversial. Herein we showed that, in humans and in mice, innate intestinal IELs expressing intracellular CD3 (iCD3+) differentiate along an Id2 transcription factor (TF)-independent pathway in response to TF NOTCH1, interleukin-15 (IL-15), and Granzyme B signals. In NOTCH1-activated human hematopoietic precursors, IL-15 induced Granzyme B, which cleaved NOTCH1 into a peptide lacking transcriptional activity. As a result, NOTCH1 target genes indispensable for T cell differentiation were silenced and precursors were reprogrammed into innate cells with T cell marks including intracellular CD3 and T cell rearrangements. In the intraepithelial lymphoma complicating celiac disease, iCD3+ innate IELs acquired gain-of-function mutations in Janus kinase 1 or Signal transducer and activator of transcription 3, which enhanced their response to IL-15. Overall we characterized gut T cell-like innate IELs, deciphered their pathway of differentiation and showed their malignant transformation in celiac disease.
Ettersperger, Montcuquet et al. showed that innate lymphocytes with T cell traits were present in the gut epithelium. The latter cells differentiated independently of Id2 in response to NOTCH and IL-15 signals. They acquired gain-of-function mutations in JAK1 or STAT3, which favored their malignant transformation in celiac disease.