A Th17-like developmental process leads to CD8+ Tc17 cells with reduced cytotoxic activity



Activation of naive CD8+ T cells with antigen in the absence of skewing cytokines triggers their differentiation into effector CTL, which induces death of target cells. We show that CD8+ T cells activated in the presence of the cytokines IL-6 or IL-21 plus TGF-β similar to CD4+ T cells, develop into IL-17-producing (Tc17) cells. These cells display greatly suppressed cytotoxic function along with low levels of the CTL markers: T-box transcription factor Eomesodermin, granzyme B and IFN-γ. Instead, these cells express hallmark molecules of Th17 program including retinoic acid receptor-related orphan receptor (ROR)γt, RORα, IL-21 and IL-23R. The expression of the type 17 master regulator RORγt is causally linked to Tc17 generation, because its overexpression stimulates production of IL-17 in the presence of IL-6 or IL-21. Both, upregulation of the type 17 program as well as suppression of CTL differentiation are STAT3 dependent. Furthermore, Tc17 cells producing IL-17 but not granzyme B are also detectable in EAE, a mouse model for multiple sclerosis. Our data point to the existence of mutually exclusive CTL and Tc17 developmental pathways in vitro and in vivo.