Tissue Damage in Radiation-Induced Oral Mucositis Is Mitigated by IL-17 Receptor Signaling

Front Immunol. 2021 Jun 17;12:687627. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2021.687627. eCollection 2021.


Oral mucositis (OM) is a treatment-limiting adverse side effect of radiation and chemotherapy. Approximately 80% of patients undergoing radiotherapy (RT) for head and neck cancers (HNC) develop OM, representing a major unmet medical condition. Our understanding of the immunopathogenesis of OM is limited, due in part to the surprising paucity of information regarding healing mechanisms in the oral mucosa. RNAseq of oral tissue in a murine model that closely mimics human OM, showed elevated expression of IL-17 and related immune pathways in response to head and neck irradiation (HNI). Strikingly, mice lacking the IL-17 receptor (IL-17RA) exhibited markedly more severe OM. Restoration of the oral mucosa was compromised in Il17ra-/- mice and components associated with healing, including matrix metalloproteinase 3, 10 and IL-24 were diminished. IL-17 is typically associated with recruitment of neutrophils to mucosal sites following oral infections. Unexpectedly, in OM the absence of IL-17RA resulted in excessive neutrophil recruitment and immunopathology. Instead, neutrophil activation was IL-1R-driven in Il17ra-/- mice. Blockade of IL-1R and depletion of neutrophils lessened the severity of damage in these mice. Overall, we show IL-17 is protective in OM through multiple mechanisms including restoration of the damaged epithelia and control of the neutrophil response. We also present a clinically relevant murine model of human OM to improve mechanistic understanding and develop rational translational therapeutics.

Keywords: healing; inflammation; interleukin-17; oral mucosa; oral mucositis (OM).

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cell Survival
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Interleukin-1 / metabolism
  • Interleukin-17 / genetics
  • Interleukin-17 / metabolism*
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Neutrophil Infiltration
  • Radiation Injuries / genetics
  • Radiation Injuries / immunology
  • Radiation Injuries / metabolism*
  • Radiation Injuries / pathology
  • Receptors, Interleukin-1 / metabolism
  • Receptors, Interleukin-17 / genetics
  • Receptors, Interleukin-17 / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Stomatitis / genetics
  • Stomatitis / immunology
  • Stomatitis / metabolism*
  • Stomatitis / pathology
  • Tongue / immunology
  • Tongue / metabolism*
  • Tongue / pathology
  • Transcriptome
  • Wound Healing*


  • Il17ra protein, mouse
  • Interleukin-1
  • Interleukin-17
  • Receptors, Interleukin-1
  • Receptors, Interleukin-17