Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), encompassing Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, is a chronic intestinal inflammatory disorder characterized by diffuse accumulation of lymphocytes in the gut mucosa as a consequence of over-expression of endothelial adhesion molecules. The infiltrating lymphocytes have been identified as subsets of T cells, including T helper (Th)1 cells, Th17 cells, and regulatory T cells. The function of these lymphocyte subpopulations in the development of IBD is well-known, since they produce a number of pro-inflammatory cytokines, such as interferon-γ and interleukin-17A, which in turn activate mucosal proteases, thus leading to the development of intestinal lesions, i.e., ulcers, fistulas, abscesses, and strictures. However, the immune mechanisms underlying IBD are not yet fully understood, and knowledge about the function of newly discovered lymphocytes, including Th9 cells, innate lymphoid cells, mucosal-associated invariant T cells, and natural killer T cells, might add new pieces to the complex puzzle of IBD pathogenesis. This review summarizes the recent advances in the understanding of the role of mucosal lymphocytes in chronic intestinal inflammation and deals with the therapeutic potential of lymphocyte-targeting drugs in IBD patients.
- Colitis, Ulcerative/immunology
- Crohn Disease/immunology
- Intestinal Mucosa/cytology
- Lymphocyte Subsets/physiology