The influence of innate lymphoid cells and unconventional T cells in chronic inflammatory lung disease

Jessica G. Borger, Maverick Lau, Margaret L. Hibbs

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)


The lungs are continuously subjected to environmental insults making them susceptible to infection and injury. They are protected by the respiratory epithelium, which not only serves as a physical barrier but also a reactive one that can release cytokines, chemokines, and other defense proteins in response to danger signals, and can undergo conversion to protective mucus-producing goblet cells. The lungs are also guarded by a complex network of highly specialized immune cells and their mediators to support tissue homeostasis and resolve integrity deviation. This review focuses on specialized innate-like lymphocytes present in the lung that act as key sensors of lung insults and direct the pulmonary immune response. Included amongst these tissue-resident lymphocytes are innate lymphoid cells (ILCs), which are classified into five distinct subsets (natural killer, ILC1, ILC2, ILC3, lymphoid tissue-inducer cells), and unconventional T cells including natural killer T (NKT) cells, mucosal-associated invariant T (MAIT) cells, and γδ-T cells. While ILCs and unconventional T cells together comprise only a small proportion of the total immune cells in the lung, they have been found to promote lung homeostasis and are emerging as contributors to a variety of chronic lung diseases including pulmonary fibrosis, allergic airway inflammation, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). A particularly intriguing trait of ILCs that has recently emerged is their plasticity and ability to alter their gene expression profiles and adapt their function in response to environmental cues. The malleable nature of these cells may aid in rapid responses to pathogen but may also have downstream pathological consequences. The role of ILC2s in Th2 allergic airway responses is becoming apparent but the contribution of other ILCs and unconventional T cells during chronic lung inflammation is poorly described. This review presents an overview of our current understanding of the involvement of ILCs and unconventional T cells in chronic pulmonary diseases.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1597
Number of pages16
JournalFrontiers in Immunology
Issue numberJULY
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jul 2019


  • Chronic lung disease
  • ILC
  • Lung
  • MAIT
  • NK cell
  • NKT cells
  • γδ-T cell

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