Regulatory T cells (Tregs) are a small yet critical subset of CD4+ T cells, which have the role of maintaining immune homeostasis by, for example, regulating self-tolerance, tumor immunity, anti-microbial resistance, allergy and transplantation rejection. The suppressive mechanisms by which Tregs function are varied and pleiotropic. The ability of Tregs to maintain self-tolerance means they are critical for the control and prevention of autoimmune diseases. Irregularities in Treg function and number can result in loss of tolerance and autoimmune disease. Restoring immune homeostasis and tolerance through the promotion, activation or delivery of Tregs has emerged as a focus for therapies aimed at curing or controlling autoimmune diseases. Such therapies have focused on the Treg cell subset by using drugs to suppress T effector cells and promote Tregs. Other approaches have trialed inducing tolerance by administering the autoantigen via direct administration, by transient expression using a DNA vector, or by antigen-specific nanoparticles. More recently, cell-based therapies have been developed as an approach to directly or indirectly enhance Treg cell specificity, function and number. This can be achieved indirectly by transfer of tolerogenic dendritic cells, which have the potential to expand antigen-specific Treg cells. Treg cells can be directly administered to treat autoimmune disease by way of polyclonal Tregs or Tregs transduced with a receptor with high affinity for the target autoantigen, such as a high affinity T cell receptor (TCR) or a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR). This review will discuss the strategies being developed to redirect autoimmune responses to a state of immune tolerance, with the aim of the prevention or amelioration of autoimmune disease.
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