T cells surviving the clonal selection process emigrate from the thymus to the periphery as immature naive T cells. In the periphery, upon activation under specific cytokine milieus, naive T cells adopt specific effector phenotypes, e.g. T-helper 1 (Th1), Th2, or Th17, and acquire diverse functions to control a myriad of pathogens, tissue injuries, and other immunological insults. Interleukin-23 (IL-23) is one of the key cytokines that shapes the development and function of Th17 cells with characteristic expression of retinoic acid receptor-related orphan receptor γ-t (RORγt), IL-17, IL-22, and granulocyte macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF). More recently, emerging data suggest that IL-23 also promotes development of 'natural Th17' (nTh17) cells that arise from the thymus, analogous to natural regulatory T cells (nTreg). We are just beginning to understand the unique thymic developmental path of nTh17 cells, which are distinct from antigen-experienced memory Th17 cells. In this review, we explore the differentiation and function of inducible, natural, and memory Th17 subsets, which encompass a broad range of immune functions while maintaining tissue hemostasis, and highlight the participation of IL-23 during the life cycle of Th17 cells.
© 2013 John Wiley & Sons A/S. Published by Blackwell Publishing Ltd.