Th17 cells have been investigated in mice primarily for their contributions to autoimmune diseases. However, the pathways of differentiation of Th17 and related Th cells (type 17 cells) and the structure of the type 17 memory population in humans are not well understood; such understanding is critical for manipulating these cells in vivo. By exploiting differences in levels of surface CCR6, we found that human type 17 memory cells, including individual T cell clonotypes, form an elongated continuum of type 17 character along which cells can be driven by increasing RORγt. This continuum includes cells preserved within the memory pool with potentials that reflect the early preferential activation of multiple over single lineages. The phenotypes and epigenomes of CCR6+ cells are stable across cell divisions under noninflammatory conditions. Nonetheless, activation in polarizing and nonpolarizing conditions can yield additional functionalities, revealing, respectively, both environmentally induced and imprinted mechanisms that contribute differentially across the type 17 continuum to yield the unusual plasticity ascribed to type 17 cells.

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