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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Mar 24;106(12):4793-8. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0900408106. Epub 2009 Mar 9.

Identification of IL-17-producing FOXP3+ regulatory T cells in humans.

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  • 1Department of Immunology, Center for Cancer Immunology Research, The University of Texas M D Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX 77030, USA.


IL-17-producing CD4(+) T helper (Th17) cells have recently been defined as a unique subset of proinflammatory helper cells whose development depends on signaling initiated by IL-6 and TGF-beta, autocrine activity of IL-21, activation of STAT3, and induction of the orphan nuclear receptor RORgammat. The maintenance, expansion, and further differentiation of the committed Th17 cells depend on IL-1beta and IL-23. IL-17 was originally found produced by circulating human CD45RO(+) memory T cells. A recent study found that human Th17 memory cells selectively express high levels of CCR6. In this study, we report that human peripheral blood and lymphoid tissue contain a significant number of CD4(+)FOXP3(+) T cells that express CCR6 and have the capacity to produce IL-17 upon activation. These cells coexpress FOXP3 and RORgammat transcription factors. The CD4(+)FOXP3(+)CCR6(+) IL-17-producing cells strongly inhibit the proliferation of CD4(+) responder T cells. CD4(+)CD25(high)-derived T-cell clones express FOXP3, RORgammat, and IL-17 and maintain their suppressive function via a cell-cell contact mechanism. We further show that human CD4(+)FOXP3(+)CCR6(-) regulatory T (Treg) cells differentiate into IL-17 producer cells upon T-cell receptor stimulation in the presence of IL-1beta, IL-2, IL-21, IL-23, and human serum. This, together with the finding that human thymus does not contain IL-17-producing Treg cells, suggests that the IL-17(+)FOXP3(+) Treg cells are generated in the periphery. IL-17-producing Treg cells may play critical roles in antimicrobial defense, while controlling autoimmunity and inflammation.

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