Innate lymphoid cells (ILC) including NK cells (cytotoxic) and the recently identified “helper” ILC1, ILC2 and ILC3, play an important role in innate defenses against pathogens. Notably, they mirror analogous T cell subsets, regarding the pattern of cytokine produced, while the timing of their intervention is few hours vs days required for T cell-mediated adaptive responses. On the other hand, the effectiveness of ILC in anti-tumor defenses is controversial. The relevance of NK cells in the control of tumor growth and metastasis has been well documented and they have been exploited in the therapy of high risk leukemia in the haploidentical hematopoietic stem cell transplantation setting. In contrast, the actual involvement of helper ILCs remains contradictory. Thus, while certain functional capabilities of ILC1 and ILC3 may favor anti-tumor responses, other functions could rather favor tumor growth, neo-angiogenesis, epithelial-mesenchymal transition and metastasis. In addition, ILC2, by secreting type-2 cytokines, are thought to induce a prevalent pro-tumorigenic effect. Finally, the function of both NK cells and helper ILCs may be inhibited by the tumor microenvironment, thus adding further complexity to the interplay between ILC and tumors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14-19
Number of pages6
JournalImmunology Letters
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Hematopoietic stem cell transplantation
  • Innate lymphoid cells
  • Innate responses against tumor
  • NK cells
  • Tumor microenvironment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology

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