Regulating the regulators: costimulatory signals control the homeostasis and function of regulatory T cells

Immunol Rev. 2009 May;229(1):41-66. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-065X.2009.00775.x.


Costimulation is a concept that goes back to the early 1980s when Lafferty and others hypothesized that cell surface and soluble molecules must exist that are essential for initiating immune responses subsequent to antigen exposure. The explosion in this field of research ensued as over a dozen molecules have been identified to function as second signals following T-cell receptor engagement. By 1994, it seemed clear that the most prominent costimulatory pathway CD28 and functionally related costimulatory molecules, such as CD154, were the major drivers of a positive immune response. Then the immunology world turned upside down. CD28 knockout mice, which were, in most cases, immunodeficient, led to increased autoimmunity when bred into the non-obese diabetic background. Another CD28 family member, cytotoxic T-lymphocyte-associated protein 4, which was presumed to be a costimulatory molecule on activated T cells, turned out to be critical in downregulating immunity. These results, coupled with the vast suppressor cell literature which had been largely rebuked, suggested that the immune system was not poised for response but controlled in such a way that regulation was dominant. Over the last decade, we have learned that these costimulatory molecules play a key role in the now classical CD4(+)CD25(+)Foxp3(+) regulatory T cells (Tregs) that provide critical control of unwanted autoimmune responses. In this review, we discuss the connections between costimulation and Tregs that have changed the costimulation paradigm.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigens, CD / immunology*
  • Antigens, CD / metabolism
  • B7-1 Antigen / immunology*
  • B7-1 Antigen / metabolism
  • CD28 Antigens / immunology*
  • CD28 Antigens / metabolism
  • CTLA-4 Antigen
  • Forkhead Transcription Factors / immunology
  • Forkhead Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Lymphocyte Activation / immunology
  • Mice
  • Signal Transduction / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / metabolism
  • Thymus Gland / immunology*
  • Thymus Gland / metabolism


  • Antigens, CD
  • B7-1 Antigen
  • CD28 Antigens
  • CTLA-4 Antigen
  • CTLA4 protein, human
  • Ctla4 protein, mouse
  • Forkhead Transcription Factors