CD4+CD25+ regulatory T cells are essential components of the immune system. They help to maintain immune tolerance by exerting suppressive effects on cells of the adaptive and innate immune system. In the last few years there has been an abundance of papers addressing the suppressive effects of CD4+CD25+ regulatory T cells and their putative role in various experimental disease models and human diseases. Despite the enormous amounts of data on these cells a number of controversial issues still exists. CD4+CD25+ regulatory T cells were originally described as thymusderived anergic/suppressive T cells. Recent papers however indicate that these cells might also be generated in the periphery. Due to the thymic development of CD4+CD25+ regulatory T cells it was thought that these cells were specific for self-antigens. Indeed it was shown that CD4+CD25+ regulatory T cells could be positively selected upon high affinity interaction with self-antigens. However, evidence is accumulating that these cells might also interact with non-self antigens. Finally, in the literature there is conflicting evidence regarding the role of soluble factors versus cell-contact in the mechanism of suppression. The aim of this review is to summarize the evidence supporting these opposing viewpoints and to combine them into a general model for the origin, function and antigen-specificity of CD4+CD25+ regulatory T cells.
Keywords: Immune regulation, anergy, suppression
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