Eras of designer Tregs: Harnessing synthetic biology for immune suppression

Immunol Rev. 2023 Nov;320(1):250-267. doi: 10.1111/imr.13254. Epub 2023 Jul 31.


Since their discovery, CD4+ CD25hi FOXP3hi regulatory T cells (Tregs) have been firmly established as a critical cell type for regulating immune homeostasis through a plethora of mechanisms. Due to their immunoregulatory power, delivery of polyclonal Tregs has been explored as a therapy to dampen inflammation in the settings of transplantation and autoimmunity. Evidence shows that Treg therapy is safe and well-tolerated, but efficacy remains undefined and could be limited by poor persistence in vivo and lack of antigen specificity. With the advent of new genetic engineering tools, it is now possible to create bespoke "designer" Tregs that not only overcome possible limitations of polyclonal Tregs but also introduce new features. Here, we review the development of designer Tregs through the perspective of three 'eras': (1) the era of FOXP3 engineering, in which breakthroughs in the biological understanding of this transcription factor enabled the conversion of conventional T cells to Tregs; (2) the antigen-specificity era, in which transgenic T-cell receptors and chimeric antigen receptors were introduced to create more potent and directed Treg therapies; and (3) the current era, which is harnessing advanced genome-editing techniques to introduce and refine existing and new engineering approaches. The year 2022 marked the entry of "designer" Tregs into the clinic, with exciting potential for application and efficacy in a wide variety of immune-mediated diseases.

Keywords: CAR; TCR; cell therapy; engineering; gene therapy; regulatory T cells.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Forkhead Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppression Therapy*
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell / metabolism
  • Synthetic Biology*
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory


  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell
  • Forkhead Transcription Factors