TGF-beta-induced Foxp3 inhibits T(H)17 cell differentiation by antagonizing RORgammat function

Nature. 2008 May 8;453(7192):236-40. doi: 10.1038/nature06878. Epub 2008 Mar 26.


T helper cells that produce IL-17 (T(H)17 cells) promote autoimmunity in mice and have been implicated in the pathogenesis of human inflammatory diseases. At mucosal surfaces, T(H)17 cells are thought to protect the host from infection, whereas regulatory T (T(reg)) cells control immune responses and inflammation triggered by the resident microflora. Differentiation of both cell types requires transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta), but depends on distinct transcription factors: RORgammat (encoded by Rorc(gammat)) for T(H)17 cells and Foxp3 for T(reg) cells. How TGF-beta regulates the differentiation of T cells with opposing activities has been perplexing. Here we demonstrate that, together with pro-inflammatory cytokines, TGF-beta orchestrates T(H)17 cell differentiation in a concentration-dependent manner. At low concentrations, TGF-beta synergizes with interleukin (IL)-6 and IL-21 (refs 9-11) to promote IL-23 receptor (Il23r) expression, favouring T(H)17 cell differentiation. High concentrations of TGF-beta repress IL23r expression and favour Foxp3+ T(reg) cells. RORgammat and Foxp3 are co-expressed in naive CD4+ T cells exposed to TGF-beta and in a subset of T cells in the small intestinal lamina propria of the mouse. In vitro, TGF-beta-induced Foxp3 inhibits RORgammat function, at least in part through their interaction. Accordingly, lamina propria T cells that co-express both transcription factors produce less IL-17 (also known as IL-17a) than those that express RORgammat alone. IL-6, IL-21 and IL-23 relieve Foxp3-mediated inhibition of RORgammat, thereby promoting T(H)17 cell differentiation. Therefore, the decision of antigen-stimulated cells to differentiate into either T(H)17 or T(reg) cells depends on the cytokine-regulated balance of RORgammat and Foxp3.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation / drug effects
  • Cell Line
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Forkhead Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Forkhead Transcription Factors / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-17 / biosynthesis
  • Interleukin-17 / genetics
  • Interleukin-17 / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Nuclear Receptor Subfamily 1, Group F, Member 3
  • Receptors, Interleukin / genetics
  • Receptors, Interleukin / metabolism
  • Receptors, Retinoic Acid / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Receptors, Retinoic Acid / genetics
  • Receptors, Retinoic Acid / metabolism
  • Receptors, Thyroid Hormone / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Receptors, Thyroid Hormone / genetics
  • Receptors, Thyroid Hormone / metabolism
  • T-Lymphocytes, Helper-Inducer / cytology*
  • T-Lymphocytes, Helper-Inducer / drug effects*
  • T-Lymphocytes, Helper-Inducer / metabolism
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta / pharmacology*


  • FOXP3 protein, human
  • Forkhead Transcription Factors
  • Foxp3 protein, mouse
  • Interleukin-17
  • Nuclear Receptor Subfamily 1, Group F, Member 3
  • RORC protein, human
  • Receptors, Interleukin
  • Receptors, Retinoic Acid
  • Receptors, Thyroid Hormone
  • Rorc protein, mouse
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta
  • interleukin-23 receptor, mouse