BACKGROUND Tuberculous pleurisy is a kind of tuberculosis, it is well known that Th1 lymphocytes play a key role in the treatment of tuberculosis infection. However, latest studies show that Th17 lymphocyte may also play an important role tuberculosis infection. There is close relationship between Treg and Thl7 cells, and changes in the number or the function of the two kinds of cells may lead to diseases. The current researches on Thl7 and Treg cells maily focus on autoimmune diseases, however, reports about their role in tuberculosis are limited. In this study, we investigate the function of th17 and Treg cells and the above cytokines in the pathogenesis of tuberculosis pleurisy; by determining the expression of Th17 and Treg cells in peripheral CD4 T cells and the related cytokines in patients with tuberculous compared with healthy people. RESULTS Th17 cells in patients were higher than that in the Healthy control group, expression of Treg cells in patients were lower than that in the healthy group; IL-17, IL-23 levels in peripheral blood and hydrothorax from the patients were higher than that in the healthy group; IL-17, IL-23 and IL-6 levels in hydrothorax were higher than that in peripheral blood. There was no difference in IL-6 level in peripheral blood between the patients and healthy control; TGF- β level in peripheral blood from the healthy group was higher than that in peripheral blood and hydrothorax from the patients. And there were no differences in TGF- β level between peripheral blood and hydrothorax. Th17 cells were negatively correlated with Treg cells ,but were positive correlation with IL-17, IL-23, IL-6 levels in peripheral blood; TGF- β level was positive correlation with Treg cells in the peripheral blood, but no correlation with Th17 cells. CONCLUSION Th17 and Treg cells may be involved in the immune pathological mechanism of tuberculous pleurisy and changes of related cytokines may be involved in the differentiation of Th17 and Treg cells and inflammatory response. Thus, Th17 and Treg cells and related cytokines may be important immunopathogenesis for tuberculous pleurisy.