Role of regulatory T cells during virus infection

Immunol Rev. 2013 Sep;255(1):182-96. doi: 10.1111/imr.12085.


The host response to viruses includes multiple cell types that have regulatory function. Most information focuses on CD4(+) regulatory T cells that express the transcription factor Foxp3(+) (Tregs), which are the topic of this review. We explain how viruses through specific and non-specific means can trigger the response of thymus-derived natural Tregs as well as induce Tregs. The latter derive under appropriate stimulation conditions either from uncommitted precursors or from differentiated cells that convert to become Tregs. We describe instances where Tregs appear to limit the efficacy of antiviral protective immunity and other, perhaps more common, immune-mediated inflammatory conditions, where the Tregs function to limit the extent of tissue damage that occurs during a virus infection. We discuss the controversial roles that Tregs may play in the pathogenesis of human immunodeficiency and hepatitis C virus infections. The issue of plasticity is discussed, as this may result in Tregs losing their protective function when present in inflammatory environments. Finally, we mention approaches used to manipulate Treg numbers and function and assess their current value and likely future success to manage the outcome of virus infection, especially those that are responsible for chronic tissue damage.

Keywords: immunopathology; infection; plasticity; regulatory T cells; therapy; virus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy, Adoptive
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / metabolism
  • Virus Diseases / immunology*
  • Virus Diseases / metabolism
  • Virus Diseases / therapy
  • Viruses / immunology*