Regulatory T Cell Plasticity and Stability and Autoimmune Diseases

  • Runze Qiu
  • Liyu Zhou
  • Yuanjing Ma
  • Lingling Zhou
  • Tao Liang
  • Le Shi
  • Jun LongEmail author
  • Dongping YuanEmail author


CD4+CD25+ regulatory T cells (Tregs) are a class of CD4+ T cells with immunosuppressive functions that play a critical role in maintaining immune homeostasis. However, in certain disease settings, Tregs demonstrate plastic differentiation, and the stability of these Tregs, which is characterized by the stable expression or protective epigenetic modifications of the transcription factor Foxp3, becomes abnormal. Plastic Tregs have some features of helper T (Th) cells, such as the secretion of Th-related cytokines and the expression of specific transcription factors in Th cells, but also still retain the expression of Foxp3, a feature of Tregs. Although such Th-like Tregs can secrete pro-inflammatory cytokines, they still possess a strong ability to inhibit specific Th cell responses. Therefore, the plastic differentiation of Tregs not only increases the complexity of the immune circumstances under pathological conditions, especially autoimmune diseases, but also shows an association with changes in the stability of Tregs. The plastic differentiation and stability change of Tregs play vital roles in the progression of diseases. This review focuses on the phenotypic characteristics, functions, and formation conditions of several plastic Tregs and also summarizes the changes of Treg stability and their effects on inhibitory function. Additionally, the effects of Treg plasticity and stability on disease prognosis for several autoimmune diseases were also investigated in order to better understand the relationship between Tregs and autoimmune diseases.


Regulatory T cell Plasticity Stability Epigenetic modification Treg-specific demethylation region Autoimmune diseases 



We thank LetPub ( for its linguistic assistance during the preparation of this manuscript.

Funding Information

This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 81573929, 81373232, 81673937, 81703815), Jiangsu Provincial Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. BK2012458), and Priority Academic Program Development of Jiangsu Higher Education Institutions.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Pharmacy, Jiangsu Key Laboratory for Pharmacology and Safety Evaluation of Chinese Materia MedicaNanjing University of Chinese MedicineNanjingPeople’s Republic of China

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