Regulatory T Cells

Volume 707 of the series Methods in Molecular Biology pp 3-17


Regulatory T Cells: History and Perspective

  • Shimon SakaguchiAffiliated withDepartment of Experimental Pathology, Institute for Frontier Medical Sciences, Kyoto UniversityWPI Immunology Frontier Research Center, Osaka University

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Despite the skepticism that once prevailed among immunologists, it is now widely accepted that the normal immune system harbors a T-cell population, called regulatory T cells (Treg cells), specialized for immune suppression. It was first shown that depletion of a T-cell subpopulation from normal rodents produced autoimmune disease. Search for a molecular marker specific for such autoimmune-preventive Treg cells has revealed that the majority, if not all, of them constitutively express the CD25 molecule as depletion of CD25+CD4+ T cells spontaneously evokes autoimmune disease in otherwise normal rodents. The expression of CD25 by Treg cells has made it possible to delineate their developmental pathways, in particular their thymic development, and establish simple in vitro assay for assessing their suppressive activity. The marker and the in vitro assay have helped to identify human Treg cells with similar functional and phenotypic characteristics. Recent efforts have shown that natural Treg cells specifically express the transcription factor Foxp3 and that mutations of the Foxp3 gene produce a variety of immunological diseases in humans and rodents. Specific expression of Foxp3 in natural Treg cells has enabled their functional and developmental characterization by genetic approach. These studies altogether have provided firm evidence for Foxp3+CD25+CD4+ Treg cells as an indispensable cellular constituent of the normal immune system for establishing and maintaining immunologic self-tolerance and immune homeostasis. Treg cells are now within the scope of clinical use to treat immunological diseases and control physiological and pathological immune responses.

Key words

Regulatory T cells Suppressor T cells Immunological self-tolerance CD25 Il-2 Foxp3 IPEX