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Dig Dis. 2015;33 Suppl 2:70-4. doi: 10.1159/000440750. Epub 2015 Dec 7.

Regulatory T Cells in Hepatic Immune Tolerance and Autoimmune Liver Diseases.


Regulatory T cells (Tregs) have a profound ability to control immune responses. A majority of Tregs are derived from the thymus; yet a substantial Treg fraction is derived from the periphery. The liver seems to be an important source of peripherally derived Tregs. Indeed, the liver's well-known ability to induce immune tolerance is at least partly based on hepatic Treg generation. With recently developed tools to deliver antigens to tolerance-inducing liver cells, it is now possible to harness liver-derived Tregs for specific control of unwanted immune responses. Indeed, the selective delivery of autoantigens to liver sinusoidal endothelial cells could induce autoantigen-specific Tregs in vivo, providing effective treatment of autoimmune disease. Owing to the fundamental role Tregs play in controlling immune responses, an impairment of Tregs seems to be a plausible explanation for the development of autoimmune diseases, for example, in the liver. However, the actual role of Treg impairment in autoimmune liver diseases, such as autoimmune hepatitis (AIH), remains controversial. Major obstacles for clarifying the role of Tregs in autoimmune liver diseases are related to the difficulty to identify human Tregs unambiguously and to the difficulty to identify those Tregs and effector T cells that specifically recognize disease-driving autoantigens. However, even if AIH turned out to be a disease that is not driven by Treg impairment, Treg-based therapies for autoimmune liver diseases might still be effective, provided the Tregs for therapeutic use recognize the relevant antigens.

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