Role of Th17 cells in the pathogenesis of CNS inflammatory demyelination

J Neurol Sci. 2013 Oct 15;333(1-2):76-87. doi: 10.1016/j.jns.2013.03.002. Epub 2013 Apr 8.


Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system (CNS). The etiology of MS is not well understood, but it is believed that myelin-specific CD4(+) T cells play a central role in initiating and orchestrating CNS inflammation. In this scenario, CD4(+) T cells, activated in the periphery, infiltrate the CNS, where, by secreting cytokines and chemokines, they start an inflammatory cascade. Given the central role of CD4(+) T cells in CNS autoimmunity, they have been studied extensively, principally by using experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), an animal model of MS. In the late 1980s, CD4(+) T cells, based on their cytokine production, were divided into two helper lineages, Th1 and Th2 cells. It was postulated that Th1 cells, which produce IFN-γ, mediate inflammation of the CNS in MS/EAE, while Th2 cells, which produce IL-4, have a beneficial effect in disease, because of their antagonistic effect on Th1 cells. The Th1/Th2 paradigm remained the prevailing view of MS/EAE pathogenesis until 2005, when a new lineage, Th17, was discovered. In a relatively short period of time it became apparent that Th17 cells, named after their hallmark cytokine, IL-17A, play a crucial role in many inflammatory diseases, including EAE, and likely in MS as well. The Th17 paradigm developed rapidly, initiating the debate of whether Th1 cells contribute to EAE/MS pathogenesis at all, or if they might even have a protective role due to their antagonistic effects on Th17 cells. Numerous findings support the view that Th17 cells play an essential role in autoimmune CNS inflammation, perhaps mainly in the initial phases of disease. Th1 cells likely contribute to pathogenesis, with their role possibly more pronounced later in disease. Hence, the current view on the role of Th cells in MS/EAE pathogenesis can be called the Th17/Th1 paradigm. It is certain that Th17 cells will continue to be the focus of intense investigation aimed at elucidating the pathogenesis of CNS autoimmunity.

Keywords: APC; CNS; EAE; GM-CSF; IFN; IL; IL-23; IL-27; MBP; MOG; MS; Multiple sclerosis; NO; TNF; Th1; Th17; Th9; Treg; Tregs; WT; antigen presenting cells; central nervous system; experimental allergic encephalomyelitis; granulocyte macrophage colony-stimulating factor; interferon; interleukin; multiple sclerosis; myelin basic protein; myelin oligodendrocyte glycoprotein; nitric oxide; regulatory T cells; tumor necrosis factor; wild-type; γδ T cell.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autoimmunity / immunology
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / pathology
  • Central Nervous System / immunology
  • Central Nervous System / pathology
  • Cytokines / immunology
  • Demyelinating Diseases / immunology*
  • Demyelinating Diseases / pathology*
  • Encephalomyelitis, Autoimmune, Experimental / complications
  • Encephalomyelitis, Autoimmune, Experimental / immunology*
  • Encephalomyelitis, Autoimmune, Experimental / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / immunology
  • Multiple Sclerosis / complications
  • Multiple Sclerosis / immunology*
  • Multiple Sclerosis / pathology*
  • Th1 Cells / immunology
  • Th1 Cells / pathology
  • Th17 Cells / immunology*
  • Th2 Cells / immunology
  • Th2 Cells / pathology


  • Cytokines