Rev Diabet Stud, 2005, 2(1):9-18 DOI 10.1900/RDS.2005.2.9

The Role of Regulatory T Cell Defects in Type I Diabetes and the Potential of these Cells for Therapy

David Thomas, Paola Zaccone, Anne Cooke

Department of Pathology, Immunology Division, University of Cambridge, Tennis Court Road, Cambridge, CB2 1QP, United Kingdom.
Address correspondence to: Anne Cooke, e-mail:

Keywords: type 1 diabetes, T cell, Treg cell, Foxp3, dendritic cells


Type I diabetes is increasing in incidence in developed countries [1]. Diabetes arises from a breakdown of tolerance to islet antigens, resulting in T cell-driven destruction of the islet cells and concomitant hyperglycemia. In this review, we explore whether this loss of tolerance results in part from a defect in the action of regulatory T cells. We draw on both human data and that obtained from NOD mice, the murine model of autoimmune diabetes. Although insulin-based therapies have been highly successful in treating diabetes, the complications of long-term hyperglycemia are still major causes of morbidity and mortality. Accordingly, we also discuss whether treatment with regulatory T cells is a viable method for restoring long-term tolerance to self-antigens in recently diagnosed or pre-diabetic individuals. Regulatory T cell therapy offers many potential advantages, including a specific and lasting dampening of inflammation. However, some significant hurdles would have to be overcome before it could become an established treatment.

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