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Front Immunol. 2014 Dec 16;5:630. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2014.00630. eCollection 2014.

Plasticity of human CD4 T cell subsets.

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Fondazione Istituto Nazionale di Genetica Molecolare "Romeo ed Enrica Invernizzi" INGM , Milan , Italy.


Human beings are exposed to a variety of different pathogens, which induce tailored immune responses and consequently generate highly diverse populations of pathogen-specific T cells. CD4(+) T cells have a central role in adaptive immunity, since they provide essential help for both cytotoxic T cell- and antibody-mediated responses. In addition, CD4(+) regulatory T cells are required to maintain self-tolerance and to inhibit immune responses that could damage the host. Initially, two subsets of CD4(+) helper T cells were identified that secrete characteristic effector cytokines and mediate responses against different types of pathogens, i.e., IFN-γ secreting Th1 cells that fight intracellular pathogens, and IL-4 producing Th2 cells that target extracellular parasites. It is now well established that this dichotomy is insufficient to describe the complexity of CD4(+) T cell differentiation, and in particular the human CD4 compartment contains a myriad of T cell subsets with characteristic capacities to produce cytokines and to home to involved tissues. Moreover, it has become increasingly clear that these T cell subsets are not all terminally differentiated cells, but that the majority is plastic and that in particular central memory T cells can acquire different properties and functions in secondary immune responses. In addition, there is compelling evidence that helper T cells can acquire regulatory functions upon chronic stimulation in inflamed tissues. The plasticity of antigen-experienced human T cell subsets is highly relevant for translational medicine, since it opens new perspectives for immune-modulatory therapies for chronic infections, autoimmune diseases, and cancer.


CD4 T cells; cytokines; differentiation; plasticity; tissue homing

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