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Nature. 2007 Jul 26;448(7152):484-7. Epub 2007 Jun 20.

IL-21 initiates an alternative pathway to induce proinflammatory T(H)17 cells.

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  • 1Center for Neurologic Diseases, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA.


On activation, naive T cells differentiate into effector T-cell subsets with specific cytokine phenotypes and specialized effector functions. Recently a subset of T cells, distinct from T helper (T(H))1 and T(H)2 cells, producing interleukin (IL)-17 (T(H)17) was defined and seems to have a crucial role in mediating autoimmunity and inducing tissue inflammation. We and others have shown that transforming growth factor (TGF)-beta and IL-6 together induce the differentiation of T(H)17 cells, in which IL-6 has a pivotal function in dictating whether T cells differentiate into Foxp3+ regulatory T cells (T(reg) cells) or T(H)17 cells. Whereas TGF-beta induces Foxp3 and generates T(reg) cells, IL-6 inhibits the generation of T(reg) cells and induces the production of IL-17, suggesting a reciprocal developmental pathway for T(H)17 and T(reg) cells. Here we show that IL-6-deficient (Il6-/-) mice do not develop a T(H)17 response and their peripheral repertoire is dominated by Foxp3+ T(reg) cells. However, deletion of T(reg) cells leads to the reappearance of T(H)17 cells in Il6-/- mice, suggesting an additional pathway by which T(H)17 cells might be generated in vivo. We show that an IL-2 cytokine family member, IL-21, cooperates with TGF-beta to induce T(H)17 cells in naive Il6-/- T cells and that IL-21-receptor-deficient T cells are defective in generating a T(H)17 response.

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