The crucial role of regulatory cells in self-tolerance and autoimmunity has been clearly established in numerous types of regulatory cells, the majority of which are CD4(+) T cells. Much focus has been placed on thymically derived CD4(+)CD25(+) regulatory T cells, given that the depletion of this subset in murine models results in the spontaneous development of autoimmune diseases. These naturally occurring regulatory T cells are found to be functionally mature in the thymus, and exert suppression in a contact-dependent manner. Another important category of immunosuppressive cells consists of conditionally induced regulatory T cells such as Tr1, Th3, and various other CD4(+) lymphocytes. Understanding the development and regulatory functions of immunoregulatory cells may elucidate the etiology for loss of self-tolerance. This review will summarize the characteristics, developmental pathways, and functions of regulatory T cells, as well as their role in human autoimmune diseases including multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Myasthenia Gravis, Kawasaki disease, autoimmune polyglandular syndrome type II, type 1 diabetes, autoimmune lymphoproliferative syndrome, and systemic lupus erythematosus.