Identity crisis of Th17 cells: many forms, many functions, many questions

Semin Immunol. 2013 Nov 15;25(4):263-72. doi: 10.1016/j.smim.2013.10.021. Epub 2013 Nov 14.


Th17 cells are a subset of CD4(+) effector T cells characterized by expression of the IL-17-family cytokines, IL-17A and IL-17F. Since their discovery nearly a decade ago, Th17 cells have been implicated in the regulation of dozens of immune-mediated inflammatory diseases and cancer. However, attempts to clarify the development and function of Th17 cells in human health and disease have generated as many questions as answers. On one hand, cytokine expression in Th17 cells appears to be remarkably dynamic and is subject to extensive regulation (both positive and negative) in tissue microenvironments. On the other hand, accumulating evidence suggests that the human Th17 subset is a heterogeneous population composed of several distinct pro- and anti-inflammatory subsets. Clearly, Th17 cells as originally conceived no longer neatly fit the long-standing paradigm of stable and irrepressible effector T cell function. Here we review current concepts surrounding human Th17 cells, with an emphasis on their plasticity, heterogeneity, and their many, tissue-specific functions. In spite of the challenges ahead, a comprehensive understanding of Th17 cells and their relationship to human disease is key to ongoing efforts to develop safer and more selective anti-inflammatory medicines.

Keywords: CCR6; CD161; GCN2; IL-17; JAK; Plasticity; RORC; RORγt; STAT; Th17 cells; general controlled non-derepressible 2; janus kinase; mTOR; mammalian target of rapamycin; signal transducer activator of transcription.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Phenotype
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / metabolism*
  • Th17 Cells / immunology*
  • Th17 Cells / metabolism*