Regulation of the immune response is a multifaceted process involving lymphocytes that function to maintain both self tolerance as well as homeostasis following productive immunity against microbes. There are 2 broad categories of Tregs that function in different immunological settings depending upon the context of antigen exposure and the nature of the inflammatory response. During massive inflammatory conditions such as microbial exposure in the gut or tissue transplantation, regulatory CD4+CD25+ Tregs broadly suppress priming and/or expansion of polyclonal autoreactive responses nonspecifically. In other immune settings where initially a limited repertoire of antigen-reactive T cells is activated and expanded, TCR-specific negative feedback mechanisms are able to achieve a fine homeostatic balance. Here I will describe experimental evidence for the existence of a Treg population specific for determinants that are derived from the TCR and are expressed by expanding myelin basic protein–reactive T cells mediating experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis, an animal prototype for multiple sclerosis. These mechanisms ensure induction of effective but appropriately limited responses against foreign antigens while preventing autoreactivity from inflicting escalating damage. In contrast to CD25+ Tregs, which are most efficient at suppressing priming or activation, these specific Tregs are most efficient in controlling T cells following their activation.
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