Th2 cells mediate the activation and maintenance of the humoral, or antibody-mediated, immune response against extracellular parasites, bacteria, allergens, and toxins. Th2 cells mediate these functions by producing various cytokines such as IL-4, IL-5, IL-6, IL-9, IL-13, and IL-17E (IL-25) that are responsible for strong antibody production, eosinophil activation, and inhibition of several macrophage functions, thus providing phagocyte-independent protective responses. These cytokines also counteract the Th1 responses that allow for the Th2 responsiveness to IL-4. IL-4 signals through STAT6 to upregulate GATA3 expression, the master regulator of Th2 cell differentiation. Repression of this activity results in the development failure of IL-4 producing cells. IL-4 also suppresses Th1 and Th17 cell responses through the upregulation of transcriptional repressor(s) of IFNγ and IL-17 production. However, the IL-4/STAT6 pathway is not completely essential for Th2 cell differentiation as Th2 cell differentiation can also occur through other cytokines such as TSLP, IL-17E (IL-25), and IL-33. Regardless, GATA3 expression and STAT5 activation, most commonly through IL-2 for Th2 cells, is completely essential for Th2 cellular differentiation.
Functionally, Th2 cytokines have effects on many cell types in the body as the cytokine receptors are widely expressed on numerous cell types. Th2 cells stimulate and recruit specialized subsets of immune cells, such as eosinophils and basophils, to the site of infection or in response to allergens or toxin leading to tissue eosinophilia and mast cell hyperplasia. They induce mucus production, goblet cell metaplasia, and airway hyper-responsiveness. Th2 cells also control the regulation of B cell class-switching to IgE. Because of their influence on the production of antibodies and allergic responses, over activation of Th2 cells appears to be responsible for the exacerbation of allergies (Type-1, immediate hypersensitivity reactions), autoimmune reactions such as chronic graft-versus-host disease, progressive systemic sclerosis, and systemic lupus erythematosus. Additionally, Th2 cells are also known to be responsible for the development of asthma and other allergic inflammatory diseases. Interestingly, Th2 cells also produce the growth factor amphiregulin and IL-24 which have anti-tumor effects.
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