CD4(+)CD25(+) T regulatory cells (Tregs) play an essential role in maintaining immunologic homeostasis and preventing autoimmunity. Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a systemic autoimmune disease characterized by a loss of tolerance to nuclear components. We hypothesized that altered function of CD4(+)CD25(high) Tregs might play a role in the breakdown of immunologic self-tolerance in patients with SLE. In this study, we report a significant decrease in the suppressive function of CD4(+)CD25(high) Tregs from peripheral blood of patients with active SLE as compared with normal donors and patients with inactive SLE. Notably, CD4(+)CD25(high) Tregs isolated from patients with active SLE expressed reduced levels of FoxP3 mRNA and protein and poorly suppressed the proliferation and cytokine secretion of CD4(+) effector T cells in vitro. In contrast, the expression of FoxP3 mRNA and protein and in vitro suppression of the proliferation of CD4(+) effector T cells by Tregs isolated from inactive SLE patients, was comparable to that of normal individuals. In vitro activation of CD4(+)CD25(high) Tregs from patients with active SLE increased FoxP3 mRNA and protein expression and restored their suppressive function. These data are the first to demonstrate a reversible defect in CD4(+)CD25(high) Treg function in patients with active SLE, and suggest that strategies to enhance the function of these cells might benefit patients with this autoimmune disease.