The concept of type-1 and type-2 helper T cells and their cytokines in humans

Int Rev Immunol. 1998;16(3-4):427-55. doi: 10.3109/08830189809043004.


In both mice and humans, functionally distinct helper T (Th)-cell subsets, known as Th1 and Th2 cells, are characterized by the patterns of cytokines they produce. These two polarized forms of the specific cellular immune response provide a useful model for explaining not only the different types of protection, but also the pathogenic mechanisms of several immunopathological disorders. The development of polarized Th1 or Th2 responses depends on either environmental factors, including dose of antigen, nature of immunogen and cytokines (IL-12 and interferons or IL-4) at the time of antigen presentation, or other undefined factors in the individual genetic background, mainly at level of the so-called "natural immunity". Th1-dominated responses are potentially effective in eradicating infectious agents, including those hidden within the host cells. When the Th1 response is poorly effective or exhaustively prolonged, it may result in host damage. In contrast, Th2 responses are apparently insufficient to protect against the majority of infectious agents, but can provide some protection against parasites. Th2 cells are able to make unpleasant the life of parasites in the host and tend to limit potentially harmful Th1-mediated responses. Thus, Th2 cells may be regarded as a part of down regulatory (or suppressor) mechanism for exaggerated and/ or inappropriate Th1 responses. The Th1/Th2 paradigm applied to the study of chronic inflammatory disorders or autoimmune diseases allowed to understand that a number of diseases are mediated by Th1 cells, the two clearest examples being multiple sclerosis and thyroid autoimmunity. In other disorders, Th1/Th2 polarization is less prominent, or rather Th2 responses tend to predominate, such as in systemic lupus erythematosus, progressive systemic sclerosis or allergic diseases. It is of note that in experimental models in animals, a number of diseases can be prevented by switching immune responses from Th1 to Th2 or from Th2 to Th1. Moreover, the Th1/Th2 concept suggests that modulation of the relative contribution of Th1- or Th2-type cytokines makes possible to regulate the balance between protection and immunopathology, as well as the development and/or the severity of some immunologic disorders.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Cytokines / immunology*
  • Humans
  • T-Lymphocytes, Helper-Inducer / immunology*
  • Th1 Cells / immunology*
  • Th2 Cells / immunology*


  • Cytokines