The development of regulatory T (Treg) cells is essential for the maintenance of immune tolerance and homeostasis. Here, we review recent studies that have advanced our understanding of Treg cell differentiation. In the thymus, TCR specificity to self-antigen appears to be a primary determinant for Treg cell lineage commitment, with c-Rel being an important factor that links T cell receptor (TCR) engagement and Foxp3 expression, along with cytokines and costimulatory molecules. It is also clear that postthymic events shape the peripheral Treg cell population. This includes preferential maintenance of Treg cells specific to self-antigens presented in the periphery, as well as the de novo generation of Treg cells from conventional Foxp3(-) T cells. The process of peripheral Treg cell differentiation shares some features with thymic Treg cell development, but there are notable differences. Together, thymic and peripheral Treg cell differentiation appear to generate an "imprint" of both self- and foreign antigens in the peripheral Treg cell population to provide dominant tolerance.
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