T cells develop in the thymus and are critical for adaptive immunity. Natural killer (NK) lymphocytes constitute an essential component of the innate immune system in tumor surveillance, reproduction, and defense against microbes and viruses. Here, we show that the transcription factor Bcl11b was expressed in all T cell compartments and was indispensable for T lineage development. When Bcl11b was deleted, T cells from all developmental stages acquired NK cell properties and concomitantly lost or decreased T cell-associated gene expression. These induced T-to-natural killer (ITNK) cells, which were morphologically and genetically similar to conventional NK cells, killed tumor cells in vitro, and effectively prevented tumor metastasis in vivo. Therefore, ITNKs may represent a new cell source for cell-based therapies.
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