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Semin Immunol. 2013 Nov 15;25(4):305-12. doi: 10.1016/j.smim.2013.10.009. Epub 2013 Nov 5.

The plasticity of human Treg and Th17 cells and its role in autoimmunity.

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Department of Neurology, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, United States; Department of Immunobiology, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, United States; Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Cambridge, MA, United States.


CD4(+) T helper cells are a central element of the adaptive immune system. They protect the organism against a wide range of pathogens and are able to initiate and control many immune reactions in combination with other cells of the adaptive and the innate immune system. Starting from a naive cell, CD4(+) T cells can differentiate into various effector cell populations with specialized function. This subset specific differentiation depends on numerous signals and the strength of stimulation. However, recent data have shown that differentiated CD4(+) T cell subpopulations display a high grade of plasticity and that their initial differentiation is not an endpoint of T cell development. In particular, FoxP3(+) regulatory T cells (Treg) and Th17 effector T cells demonstrate a high grade of plasticity, which allow a functional adaptation to various physiological situations during an immune response. However, the plasticity of Treg and Th17 cells might also be a critical factor for autoimmune disease. Here we discuss the recent developments in CD4(+) T cell plasticity with a focus on Treg and Th17 cells and its role in human autoimmune disease, in particular multiple sclerosis (MS).


Autoimmunity; CD4(+) T cells; FoxP3; IL-17; T cell plasticity; Th17; Treg

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