Repositioning TH cell polarization from single cytokines to complex help

Nat Immunol. 2021 Oct;22(10):1210-1217. doi: 10.1038/s41590-021-01009-w. Epub 2021 Sep 20.


When helper T (TH) cell polarization was initially described three decades ago, the TH cell universe grew dramatically. New subsets were described based on their expression of few specific cytokines. Beyond TH1 and TH2 cells, this led to the coining of various TH17 and regulatory (Treg) cell subsets as well as TH22, TH25, follicular helper (TFH), TH3, TH5 and TH9 cells. High-dimensional single-cell analysis revealed that a categorization of TH cells into a single-cytokine-based nomenclature fails to capture the complexity and diversity of TH cells. Similar to the simple nomenclature used to describe innate lymphoid cells (ILCs), we propose that TH cell polarization should be categorized in terms of the help they provide to phagocytes (type 1), to B cells, eosinophils and mast cells (type 2) and to non-immune tissue cells, including the stroma and epithelium (type 3). Studying TH cells based on their helper function and the cells they help, rather than phenotypic features such as individual analyzed cytokines or transcription factors, better captures TH cell plasticity and conversion as well as the breadth of immune responses in vivo.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • B-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Cell Plasticity / immunology
  • Cytokines / immunology*
  • Eosinophils / immunology
  • Epithelium / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate / immunology
  • Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Phagocytes / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes, Helper-Inducer / immunology*


  • Cytokines