Human liver infiltrating γδ T cells are composed of clonally expanded circulating and tissue-resident populations

Stuart Hunter, Carrie R. Willcox, Martin S. Davey, Sofya A. Kasatskaya, Hannah C. Jeffery, Dmitriy M. Chudakov, Ye H. Oo, Benjamin E. Willcox

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Background & Aims: γδ T cells comprise a substantial proportion of tissue-associated lymphocytes. However, our current understanding of human γδ T cells is primarily based on peripheral blood subsets, while the immunobiology of tissue-associated subsets remains largely unclear. Therefore, we aimed to elucidate the T cell receptor (TCR) diversity, immunophenotype and function of γδ T cells in the human liver. Methods: We characterised the TCR repertoire, immunophenotype and function of human liver infiltrating γδ T cells, by TCR sequencing analysis, flow cytometry, in situ hybridisation and immunohistochemistry. We focussed on the predominant tissue-associated Vδ2 γδ subset, which is implicated in liver immunopathology. Results: Intrahepatic Vδ2 γδ T cells were highly clonally focussed, with single expanded clonotypes featuring complex, private TCR rearrangements frequently dominating the compartment. Such T cells were predominantly CD27lo/− effector lymphocytes, whereas naïve CD27hi, TCR-diverse populations present in matched blood were generally absent in the liver. Furthermore, while a CD45RAhi Vδ2 γδ effector subset present in both liver and peripheral blood contained overlapping TCR clonotypes, the liver Vδ2 γδ T cell pool also included a phenotypically distinct CD45RAlo effector compartment that was enriched for expression of the tissue tropism marker CD69, the hepatic homing chemokine receptors CXCR3 and CXCR6, and liver-restricted TCR clonotypes, suggestive of intrahepatic tissue residency. Liver infiltrating Vδ2 γδ cells were capable of polyfunctional cytokine secretion, and unlike peripheral blood subsets, were responsive to both TCR and innate stimuli. Conclusion: These findings suggest that the ability of Vδ2 γδ T cells to undergo clonotypic expansion and differentiation is crucial in permitting access to solid tissues, such as the liver, which results in functionally distinct peripheral and liver-resident memory γδ T cell subsets. They also highlight the inherent functional plasticity within the Vδ2 γδ T cell compartment and provide information that could be used for the design of cellular therapies that suppress liver inflammation or combat liver cancer. Lay summary: γδ T cells are frequently enriched in many solid tissues, however the immunobiology of such tissue-associated subsets in humans has remained unclear. We show that intrahepatic γδ T cells are enriched for clonally expanded effector T cells, whereas naïve γδ T cells are largely excluded. Moreover, whereas a distinct proportion of circulating T cell clonotypes was present in both the liver tissue and peripheral blood, a functionally and clonotypically distinct population of liver-resident γδ T cells was also evident. Our findings suggest that factors triggering γδ T cell clonal selection and differentiation, such as infection, can drive enrichment of γδ T cells into liver tissue, allowing the development of functionally distinct tissue-restricted memory populations specialised in local hepatic immunosurveillance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)654-665
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Hepatology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Gamma delta T cells
  • Human liver
  • Immunological memory
  • Liver immune surveillance
  • Liver-resident T cells
  • T cell receptor

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