Identification of a distinct NK-like hepatic T-cell population activated by NKG2C in a TCR-independent manner

June Young Koh, Min Seok Rha, Seong Jin Choi, Ha Seok Lee, Ji Won Han, Heejin Nam, Dong Uk Kim, Jae Geun Lee, Myoung Soo Kim, Jun Yong Park, Su Hyung Park, Dong Jin Joo, Eui Cheol Shin

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9 Citations (Scopus)


Background & Aims: The liver provides a unique niche of lymphocytes enriched with a large proportion of innate-like T cells. However, the heterogeneity and functional characteristics of the hepatic T-cell population remain to be fully elucidated. Methods: We obtained liver sinusoidal mononuclear cells from the liver perfusate of healthy donors and recipients with HBV-associated chronic liver disease (CLD) during liver transplantation. We performed a CITE-seq analysis of liver sinusoidal CD45+ cells in combination with T cell receptor (TCR)-seq and flow cytometry to examine the phenotypes and functions of liver sinusoidal CD8+ T cells. Results: We identified a distinct CD56hiCD161-CD8+ T-cell population characterized by natural killer (NK)-related gene expression and a uniquely restricted TCR repertoire. The frequency of these cells among the liver sinusoidal CD8+ T-cell population was significantly increased in patients with HBV-associated CLD. Although CD56hiCD161-CD8+ T cells exhibit weak responsiveness to TCR stimulation, CD56hiCD161-CD8+ T cells highly expressed various NK receptors, including CD94, killer immunoglobulin-like receptors, and NKG2C, and exerted NKG2C-mediated NK-like effector functions even in the absence of TCR stimulation. In addition, CD56hiCD161-CD8+ T cells highly respond to innate cytokines, such as IL-12/18 and IL-15, in the absence of TCR stimulation. We validated the results from liver sinusoidal CD8+ T cells using intrahepatic CD8+ T cells obtained from liver tissues. Conclusions: In summary, the current study found a distinct CD56hiCD161-CD8+ T-cell population characterized by NK-like activation via TCR-independent NKG2C ligation. Further studies are required to elucidate the roles of liver sinusoidal CD56hiCD161-CD8+ T cells in immune responses to microbial pathogens or liver immunopathology. Lay summary: The role of different immune cell populations in the liver is becoming an area of increasing interest. Herein, we identified a distinct T-cell population that had features similar to those of natural killer (NK) cells – a type of innate immune cell. This distinct population was expanded in the livers of patients with chronic liver disease and could thus have pathogenic relevance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1059-1070
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Hepatology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2022 Oct

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© 2022 The Author(s)

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Hepatology


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