Tumor necrosis factor α (TNFα) is a pleiotropic cytokine which signals through TNF receptor 1 (TNFR1) and TNF receptor 2 (TNFR2). Emerging evidence has demonstrated that TNFR1 is ubiquitously expressed on almost all cells, while TNFR2 exhibits a limited expression, predominantly on regulatory T cells (Tregs). In addition, the signaling pathway by sTNF via TNFR1 mainly triggers pro-inflammatory pathways, and mTNF binding to TNFR2 usually initiates immune modulation and tissue regeneration. TNFα plays a critical role in upregulation or downregulation of Treg activity. Deficiency in TNFR2 signaling is significant in various autoimmune diseases. An ideal therapeutic strategy for autoimmune diseases would be to selectively block the sTNF/TNFR1 signal through the administration of sTNF inhibitors, or using TNFR1 antagonists while keeping the TNFR2 signaling pathway intact. Another promising strategy would be to rely on TNFR2 agonists which could drive the expansion of Tregs and promote tissue regeneration. Design of these therapeutic strategies targeting the TNFR1 or TNFR2 signaling pathways holds promise for the treatment of diverse inflammatory and degenerative diseases.
Keywords: autoimmune diseases; regulatory T cells; tumor necrosis factor receptor 1; tumor necrosis factor receptor 2; tumor necrosis factor α.