Rationalizing heptadecaphobia: TH 17 cells and associated cytokines in cancer and metastasis

FEBS J. 2021 Dec;288(24):6942-6971. doi: 10.1111/febs.15711. Epub 2021 Jan 29.


Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. When cancer patients are diagnosed with metastasis, meaning that the primary tumor has spread to at least one different site, their life expectancy decreases dramatically. In the past decade, the immune system´s role in fighting cancer and metastasis has been studied extensively. Importantly, immune cells and inflammatory reactions generate potent antitumor responses but also contribute to tumor development. However, the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying this dichotomic interaction between the immune system and cancer are still poorly understood. Recently, a spotlight has been cast on the distinct subsets of immune cells and their derived cytokines since evidence has implicated their crucial impact on cancer development. T helper 17 cell (TH 17) cells, which express the master transcriptional factor Retinoic acid-receptor-related orphan receptor gamma t, are among these critical cell subsets and are defined by their production of type 3 cytokines, such as IL-17A, IL-17F, and IL-22. Depending on the tumor microenvironment, these cytokines can also be produced by other immune cell sources, such as T cytotoxic 17 cell, innate lymphoid cells, NKT cells, or γδ T cells. To date, a lot of data have been collected describing the divergent functions of IL-17A, IL-17F, and IL-22 in malignancies. In this comprehensive review, we discuss the role of these TH 17- and non-TH 17-derived type 3 cytokines in different tumor entities. Furthermore, we will provide a structured insight into the strict regulation and subsequent downstream mechanisms of these cytokines in cancer and metastasis.

Keywords: IL-17A; IL-17F; IL-22; cancer; metastasis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Interleukin-17 / metabolism*
  • Interleukins / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Th17 Cells


  • IL17A protein, human
  • IL17F protein, human
  • Interleukin-17
  • Interleukins
  • interleukin-22