The human immune system is a myriad of diverse cellular populations, each contributing to maintaining an effective and optimal immune response against infectious agents. It is important to maintain a “self-check” in the immune system so that responses do not go haywire, leading to the development of autoimmune diseases. Regulatory/suppressor T (Treg) cells are a specialized subpopulation of T cells that suppress the activation, expansion, and function of other T cells, thereby maintaining homeostasis through a fine balance between reactivity to foreign and self antigens. Tregs are characterized by surface expression of interleukin (IL)-2 receptor α chain (CD25) and intracellular expression of forkhead box protein P3 (FoxP3). There are at least two important functional populations of Treg cells, namely natural Treg (nTreg), which are continuously derived from the thymus, and induced Treg (iTreg), which are converted from naive T cells. The development and function of both nTreg and iTreg cells are regulated by several factors, such as antigen T-cell receptor, co-stimulatory receptors (i.e., cytotoxic T lymphocyte-associated antigen, or CTLA-4), and cytokines (IL-2, IL-10, and tumor growth factor-β, or TGF-β). In addition, the TGF-β inhibitor ALK5, retinoid acid, and rapamycin influence the expansion of nTreg cells and the conversion of iTreg cells in vitro and in vivo. The heightening of Treg expansion may be harnessed to therapeutic methods for the treatment of autoimmune diseases and the induction of transplantation tolerance.
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