Naturally-occurring regulatory T cells (Tregs) are emerging as key regulators of immune responses to self-tissues and infectious agents. Insight has been gained into the cell types and the cellular events that are regulated by Tregs. Indeed, Tregs have been implicated in the control of initial activation events, proliferation, differentiation and effector function. However, the mechanisms by which Tregs disable their cellular targets are not well understood. Here we review recent advances in the identification of distinct mechanisms of Treg action and of signals that enable cellular targets to escape regulation. Roles for inhibitory cytokines, cytotoxic molecules, modulators of cAMP and cytokine competition have all been demonstrated. The growing number of inhibitory mechanisms ascribed to Tregs suggests that Tregs take a multi-pronged approach to immune regulation. It is likely that the relative importance of each inhibitory mechanism is context dependent and modulated by the inflammatory milieu and the magnitude of the immune response. In addition, the target cell may be differentially susceptible or resistant to distinct Treg mechanisms depending on their activation or functional status at the time of the Treg encounter. Understanding when and where each suppressive tool is most effective will help to fine tune therapeutic strategies to promote or constrain specific arms of Treg suppression.
- Regulatory T cell