The April 2005 issue of Nature Immunology (Volume 6, Number 4, 331) examines the state-of-the-art understanding in the biology of regulatory T cells and how they may directly affect many conditions, including autoimmune diseases, cancer, allergy, infectious diseases and transplantation.
Our immune system is discerning. It kills unhealthy or foreign cells, but spares healthy cells and our own, resident cells. To learn which cells to destroy, the immune system goes through an 'educational' process. However, this education is not perfect, allowing cells that will harm us to roam our body. Scientists are now focusing on a population of immune cells called regulatory T cells that seem to police our body to ensure healthy cells are not attacked by the immune system.
Regulatory T cells are also known as suppressor T cells because they restrain the activity of immune responses. Because of this 'suppressing' property, they can prevent rogue immune cells from attacking healthy tissues. Similarly, they can help to prevent the rejection of transplanted tissues by stopping the recipient immune system from attacking the new tissue. However, this same property can stop the immune system from effectively attacking cells that are sick, such as bacteria- or viruses-infected cells and cancer cells; these powerful cells can be 'double-edged swords'.
This special focus issue features an article from Alexander Rudensky on the process of regulatory T cell development, and Harald von Boehmer looks at how they suppress the function of other cells. Yasmine Belkaid investigates how regulatory T cells affect infectious diseases, and Shimon Sakaguchi discusses the function of these cells in autoimmune diseases, transplantation and cancer. From experimental animal models and certain human conditions, it is apparent that regulatory T cells have the ability to substantially influence the various diseases mentioned. A better understanding of their biology holds considerable promise for therapeutic intervention in those human diseases.
Alexander Rudensky (University of Washington School of Medicine and HHMI, Seattle, WA, USA)
Harald von Boehmer (Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA)
Yasmine Belkaid (Cincinnati Children's Hospital Research Foundation, Cincinnati, OH, USA. Currently at: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIH, Bethesda, MD, USA)
Shimon Sakaguchi (Kyoto University, Japan)
Peter Lee (Associate Editor, Nature Immunology, New York, NY, USA)
(C) Nature Immunology press release.
Message posted by: Trevor M. D'Souza