Source Institute of Immunology, PLA, Third Military Medical University, Chongqing, China.
T helper 17 (Th17) cells are a newly identified subset of T helper cells that play important roles in host defense against extracellular bacteria, as well as in the pathogenesis of autoimmune disease. Research interest in these cells was piqued when hepatitis B virus (HBV)-infected patients were found to have significantly elevated Th17 cell frequency, and it was proposed that these proinflammatory effectors may promote the HBV disease process. Subsequent studies have revealed that Th17 cells drive immune-mediated pathology of HBV infection, and that IL-23 amplifies the Th17 cell responses and liver inflammation. As a result, new pathways of HBV-mediated liver damage have been elucidated, along with promising new targets of molecular therapeutic strategies. Ongoing research is also providing significant insights into the target cells and underlying mechanisms of Th17-secreted cytokines, including IL-17A, IL-21 and IL-22. Future studies are expected to fully uncover the cytokine-related mechanisms mediating HBV-induced liver inflammation, and to determine the yet unknown cell source of IL-23. This review will draw upon the most up-to-date available data to discuss the putative roles and detailed mechanisms of IL-23/Th17 cell axis in HBV infection-mediated liver pathogenesis.