The incidence of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases has increased among developed countries in the past 30 years, creating a demand for the development of effective and economic therapies for these diseases. Interleukin 23 (IL-23) is a pro-inflammatory cytokine whose increased production has been shown to play a key role in the establishment and maintenance of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases in different murine models such as inflammatory bowel disease, psoriasis and experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis. More importantly, increased levels of IL-23 have been found in biopsies from patients with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, and psoriasis. The pathological consequences of excessive IL-23 signalling have been linked to its ability to promote the production of interleukin 17 (IL-17), particularly in the subpopulation of CD4 T cells Th17. However, the precise molecular mechanisms by which IL-23 sustains the Th17 response and induces pathogenic effector functions in these cells remain largely unknown. The global objective of the experiments carried out in this work was to determine the effect of IL-23 on the proliferation, survival and IL-17 and interferon gamma (IFN-ɣ) production in Th17 cells. These experiments have shown that IL-23 does not promote proliferation or survival of in vitro generated Th17 cells, and that there is no difference in the production of IL -17 in the absence or presence of IL -23.
The IL-23 receptor, like other cytokine receptors, lacks intrinsic enzymatic activity. Instead, IL-23 receptor associates with members of the Janus tyrosine kinase family (Jaks). Cytokine binding to a Jak-associated receptor triggers the activation of the Signal Transducers and Activators of Transcription (STAT) family of transcription factors. Previous work indicated that the IL-23 receptor complex is associated with the tyrosine kinases Jak2 and Tyk2 that promote STAT3 phosphorylation. Subsequent studies showed that IL23 activation of STAT3 induces the expression of the transcription factor RORγt, which is crucial for IL-17 production. This work has explored the IL-23 signalling cascade, determining the optimal conditions for STAT3 activation and demonstrating the activation of other transcription factors such as STAT4, STAT5 and STAT1 that contribute to IL-23-mediated signalling pathways.