Making regulatory T cells with defined antigen specificity: role in autoimmunity and cancer

Immunol Rev. 2006 Aug;212:163-9. doi: 10.1111/j.0105-2896.2006.00411.x.


There is increasing evidence that agonist ligand presentation either intrathymically or extrathymically plays a crucial if not essential role in the generation of regulatory T cells (Tregs). Thus, it is possible to induce Tregs of any desired specificity in vivo. The same goal can be achieved in vitro by expanding antigen-specific CD4+ T cells and retrovirally transducing them. In contrast, in vitro expansion of Tregs is limited to antigens that have resulted in Treg generation in vivo. Antigen-specific Tregs can be used in cellular therapy with the goal to prevent autoimmune disease or even to interfere with established autoimmunity. The latter requires that the Tregs can suppress effector cells that have already caused harm, which is possible because of the antigen-dependent homing properties of Tregs, i.e. these cells can accumulate in antigen-draining lymph nodes and exit into inflamed tissue. Generally, the in vivo interference is dependent on cytokines such as transforming growth factor-beta and interleukin-10 that were dispensable in in vivo analysis of immunosuppression. The precise mechanisms of suppression remain enigmatic, however, but may be further elucidated by the molecular analysis of suppressed versus non-suppressed T cells.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigens, Neoplasm / immunology*
  • Autoimmune Diseases / immunology
  • Autoimmune Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Autoimmunity
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppression
  • Mice
  • Neoplasms / immunology
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / transplantation*
  • Thymus Gland / cytology
  • Thymus Gland / immunology*


  • Antigens, Neoplasm