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Clin Exp Allergy. 2009 Sep;39(9):1314-23. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2222.2009.03301.x. Epub 2009 Jun 17.

Regulatory T cells and asthma.

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  • 1Laboratorios Leti, SL, Madrid, Spain.


Airway inflammation in asthma is characterized by activation of T helper type-2 (Th2) T cells, IgE production and eosinophilia. In many cases, this process is related to an inappropriate T cell response to environmental allergens, and other T cell-dependent pathways may also be involved (such as Th17). Regulatory T cells (Tregs) are T cells that suppress potentially harmful immune responses. Two major subsets of Treg are CD25(hi), Foxp3(+)Tregs and IL-10-producing Tregs. There is evidence that the numbers or function of both subsets may be deficient in patients with atopic allergic disease. Recent work has extended these findings into the airway in asthma where Foxp3 expression was reduced and CD25(hi) Treg-suppressive function was deficient. In animal models of allergic airways disease, Tregs can suppress established airway inflammation and airway hyperresponsiveness, and protocols to enhance the development, recruitment and function of Tregs have been described. Together with studies of patients and in vitro studies of human T cells, these investigations are defining potential interventions to enhance Treg function in the airway in asthma. Existing therapies including corticosteroids and allergen immunotherapy act on Tregs, in part to increase IL-10 production, while vitamin D3 and long-acting beta-agonists enhance IL-10 Treg function. Other possibilities may be enhancement of Treg function via histamine or prostanoid receptors, or by blocking pro-inflammatory pathways that prevent suppression by Tregs (activation of Toll-like receptors, or production of cytokines such as IL-6 and TNF-alpha). As Tregs can also suppress the potentially beneficial immune response important for controlling infections and cancer, a therapeutic intervention should target allergen- or site-specific regulation.

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