Traditionally, Crohn’s disease has been associated with a Th1 cytokine profile, while Th2 cytokines are modulators of ulcerative colitis. This concept has been challenged by the description of tolerising regulatory T cells (Treg) and by proinflammatory Th17 cells, a novel T cell population characterised by the master transcription factor RORγt, the surface markers IL23R and CCR6, and by production of the proinflammatory cytokines IL17A, IL17F, IL21, IL22 and IL26, and the chemokine CCL20. Th17 cells differentiate under the influence of IL1β, IL6, IL21 and IL23. Recent studies indicate that TGFβ is essential not only for the development of murine Th17 cells but also for differentiation of human Th17 cells. TGFβ reciprocally regulates the differentiation of inflammatory Th17 cells and suppressive Treg subsets, with the concomitant presence of proinflammatory cytokines favouring Th17 cell differentiation. Several studies demonstrated an important role of Th17 cells in intestinal inflammation, particularly in Crohn’s disease. Genome-wide association studies indicate that IL23R and five additional genes involved in Th17 differentiation (IL12B, JAK2, STAT3, CCR6 and TNFSF15) are associated with susceptibility to Crohn’s disease and partly also to ulcerative colitis. Taken together, both Th1 and Th17 cells are important mediators of inflammation in Crohn’s disease, although activities previously ascribed to IL12 may be mediated by IL23. Anti-IL12/IL23p40 antibody therapy, which targets both Th1 and Th17 cells, is effective in Crohn’s disease. However, the complex relationship between Th1 and Th17 cells has not been completely analysed. This will be of great importance to delineate the specific contributions of these cells to Crohn’s disease and other autoimmune diseases.
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Competing interests: None.
Funding: SB was supported by grants of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (BR 1912/5–1), Else Kröner-Fresenius-Stiftung (Else Kröner-Fresenius Memorial Grant 2005; 60/05//EKMS 05/62), the Ludwig Demling Grant 2007 of DCCV e.V., and a grant of the Excellence Initiative of Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich (Investment Fund 2008).