Regulatory CD4+ T cells are generated in the thymus and are distinguished from effector T cells by the expression of specific membrane antigens and by the intracellular expression of the transcription factor Foxp3. While the target antigens for regulatory T cells and their mechanisms of action remain poorly defined, several investigations have shown that these cells can contribute to the prevention of organ-specific autoimmunity. In the case of systemic autoimmune diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), it has recently emerged that regulatory T cells may play an important role in the control of the abnormal autoreactivity. The finding that the number of circulating Tregs decreases in active lupus patients and that the extent of such decrease correlates with clinical disease severity - together with the data obtained in murine models of lupus - have suggested the possibility of targeting Tregs for the modulation of the clinical course of SLE. This review highlights the advances and limitations of the studies on regulatory T cells in SLE, and critically discusses the most recent findings in this rapidly evolving field.
Keywords: Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), CD4+CD25+ regulatory T cells (Tregs), immune tolerance, autoimmunity
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