Regulatory T cells in cancer

Adv Cancer Res. 2010:107:57-117. doi: 10.1016/S0065-230X(10)07003-X.


At the present time, regulatory T cells (Tregs) are an integral part of immunology but the route from discovery of "suppressive" lymphocytes in the 1980s to the current established concept of Tregs almost 20 years later has been a rollercoaster ride. Tregs are essential for maintaining self-tolerance as defects in their compartment lead to severe autoimmune diseases. This vitally important function exists alongside the detrimental effects on tumor immunosurveillance and antitumor immunity. Beginning with the identification of CD4(+)CD25(+) Tregs in 1995, the list of Treg subsets, suppressive mechanisms, and knowledge about their various origins is steadily growing. Increase in Tregs within tumors and circulation of cancer patients, observed in early studies, implied their involvement in pathogenesis and disease progression. Several mechanisms, ranging from proliferation to specific trafficking networks, have been identified to account for their systemic and/or local accumulation. Since various immunotherapeutic approaches are being utilized for cancer therapy, various strategies to overcome the antagonistic effects exerted by Tregs are being currently explored. An overview on the biology of Tregs present in cancer patients, their clinical impact, and methods for modulating them is given in this review. Despite the extensive studies on Tregs in cancer many questions still remain unanswered. Even the paradigm that Tregs generally are disadvantageous for the control of malignancies is now under scrutiny. Insight into the specific role of Tregs in different types of neoplasias is the key for targeting them in a way that is beneficial for the clinical outcome.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Cancer Vaccines
  • Drug Delivery Systems
  • Humans
  • Immunomodulation
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / cytology
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / cytology
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / immunology*


  • Cancer Vaccines