Key Points

  • RhoG deficiency abrogates cytotoxic function of CTLs and NK cells, causing hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH).

  • RhoG interacts with Munc13-4 at the surface of cytotoxic granules to promote their anchoring to the plasma membrane.

Exocytosis of cytotoxic granules (CG) by lymphocytes is required for the elimination of infected and malignant cells. Impairments in this process underly a group of diseases with dramatic hyperferritinemic inflammation termed hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH). Although genetic and functional studies of HLH have identified proteins controlling distinct steps of CG exocytosis, the molecular mechanisms that spatiotemporally coordinate CG release remain unclear. We studied a patient exhibiting characteristic clinical features of HLH associated with markedly impaired cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) and natural killer (NK) cell exocytosis functions, who was bearing biallelic deleterious mutations in the gene encoding the small GTPase RhoG. Experimental ablation of RHOG in a model cell line and primary CTLs from healthy individuals uncovered a hitherto unappreciated role of RhoG in retaining CGs in the vicinity of the plasma membrane (PM), a fundamental prerequisite for CG exocytotic release. We discovered that RhoG engages in a protein-protein interaction with Munc13-4, an exocytosis protein essential for CG fusion with the PM. We show that this interaction is critical for docking of Munc13-4-positive CGs to the PM and subsequent membrane fusion and release of CG content. Thus, our study illuminates RhoG as a novel essential regulator of human lymphocyte cytotoxicity, and provides the molecular pathomechanism behind the identified here and previously unreported genetically-determined form of HLH.

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