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Keywords:

  • regulatory T cells;
  • intestinal homeostasis;
  • transforming growth factor-β;
  • interleukin-10;
  • cytotoxic T-lymphocyte antigen-4;
  • inflammatory bowel disease

Summary:  The gastrointestinal (GI) tract is the main interface where the body encounters exogenous antigens. It is crucial that the local response here is tightly regulated to avoid an immune reaction against dietary antigens and commensal flora while still mounting an efficient defense against pathogens. Faults in establishing intestinal tolerance can lead to disease, inducing local and often also systemic inflammation. Studies in human as well as in animal models suggest a role for regulatory T cells (Tregs) in maintaining intestinal homeostasis. Transfer of Tregs can not only prevent the development of colitis in animal models but also cure established disease, acting both systemically and at the site of inflammation. In this review, we discuss the major regulatory pathways, including transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β), interleukin-10 (IL-10), and cytotoxic T-lymphocyte antigen-4 (CTLA-4), and their role in Treg-mediated control of systemic and mucosal responses. In addition, we give an overview of the known mechanisms of lymphocyte migration to the intestine and discuss how CD103 expression can influence the balance between regulatory and effector T cells. Further understanding of the factors that control the activity of Tregs in different immune compartments may facilitate the design of strategies to target regulation in a tissue-specific way.