IL-17-producing T helper (Th17) cells comprise a distinct Th subset involved in epithelial cell- and neutrophil-mediated immune responses against extracellular microbes. At the same time, Th17 cells play significant roles in the development of autoimmune diseases including rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. Since the identification of Th17 cells approximately a decade ago, the molecular mechanisms of their differentiation have been intensively studied and a number of signaling cascades and transcription factors have been shown to be involved. Here, we review the current knowledge regarding the function of Th17 cells in vivo as well as several key concepts for the molecular mechanisms of Th17 differentiation. We also discuss the emerging roles of phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K), mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1) and hypoxia-inducible factor 1 (HIF-1) in the differentiation of Th17 cells.
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