The nuclear hormone receptor retinoic acid receptor-related orphan receptor γt (RORγt) is required for the generation of T helper 17 cells expressing the proinflammatory cytokine interleukin (IL)-17. In vivo, however, less than half of RORγt+ T cells express IL-17. We report here that RORγt+ Tαβ cells include Foxp3+ cells that coexist with IL-17-producing RORγt+ Tαβ cells in all tissues examined. The Foxp3+ RORγt+ Tαβ express IL-10 and CCL20, and function as regulatory T cells. Furthermore, the ratio of Foxp3+ to IL-17-producing RORγt + Tαβ cells remains remarkably constant in mice enduring infection and inflammation. This equilibrium is tuned in favor of IL-10 production by Foxp3 and CCL20, and in favor of IL-17 production by IL-6 and IL-23. In the lung and skin, the largest population of RORγt+ T cells express the γδ T cell receptor and produce the highest levels of IL-17 independently of IL-6. Thus, potentially antagonistic proinflammatory IL-17-producing and regulatory Foxp3+ RORγt+ T cells coexist and are tightly controlled, suggesting that a perturbed equilibrium in RORγt+ T cells might lead to decreased immunoreactivity or, in contrast, to pathological inflammation.
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