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Immunology. 2011 Aug;133(4):397-408. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2567.2011.03454.x. Epub 2011 Jun 2.

Interleukin-23 and T helper 17-type responses in intestinal inflammation: from cytokines to T-cell plasticity.

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  • 1Centre for Immunology and Infection, Department of Biology and Hull York Medical School, University of York, UK.


Interleukin-23 (IL-23) plays an essential role in driving intestinal pathology in experimental models of both T-cell-dependent and innate colitis. Furthermore, genome-wide association studies have identified several single-nucleotide polymorphisms in the IL-23 receptor (IL-23R) gene that are associated with either susceptibility or resistance to inflammatory bowel disease in humans. Although initially found to support the expansion and maintenance of CD4(+) T helper 17 (Th17) cells, IL-23 is now recognized as having multiple effects on the immune response, including restraining Foxp3(+) regulatory T-cell activity and inducing the expression of Th17-type cytokines from non-T-cell sources. Here we focus on Th17 cells and their associated cytokines IL-17A, IL-17F, IL-21 and IL-22. We review studies performed in mouse models of colitis where these effector cytokines have been shown to have either a pathogenic or a tissue-protective function. We also discuss the heterogeneity found within the Th17 population and the phenomenon of plasticity of Th17 cells, in particular the ability of these lymphocytes to extinguish IL-17 expression and turn on interferon-γ production to become Th1-like 'ex-Th17' cells. Interleukin-23 has been identified as a key driver in this process, and this may be an additional mechanism by which IL-23 promotes pathology in the intestinal tract. These 'ex-Th17' cells may contribute to disease pathogenesis through their secretion of pro-inflammatory mediators.

© 2011 The Authors. Immunology © 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

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