Regulatory T cell dysfunction in type 1 diabetes: what's broken and how can we fix it?

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Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease characterised by the destruction of insulin producing beta cells in the pancreas. Whilst it remains unclear what the original triggering factors for this destruction are, observations from the natural history of human type 1 diabetes, including incidence rates in twins, suggest that the disease results from a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Whilst many different immune cells have been implicated, including members of the innate and adaptive immune systems, a view has emerged over the past 10 years that beta cell damage is mediated by the combined actions of CD4(+) and CD8(+) T cells with specificity for islet autoantigens. In health, these potentially pathogenic T cells are held in check by multiple regulatory mechanisms, known collectively as 'immunological tolerance'. This raises the question as to whether type 1 diabetes develops, at least in part, as a result of a defect in one or more of these control mechanisms. Immunological tolerance includes both central mechanisms (purging of the T cell repertoire of high-affinity autoreactive T cells in the thymus) and peripheral mechanisms, a major component of which is the action of a specialised subpopulation of T cells, known as regulatory T cells (Tregs). In this review, we highlight the evidence suggesting that a reduction in the functional capacity of different Treg populations contributes to disease development in type 1 diabetes. We also address current controversies regarding the putative causes of this defect and discuss strategies to correct it as a means to reduce or prevent islet destruction in a clinical setting.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2661 - 2807
Number of pages12
Issue number10
Early online date2 Aug 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2 Aug 2017


  • Journal Article
  • Review


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