Regulatory T-cells

Regulatory T-cells, or Tregs, are white blood cells within your immune system. Tregs control your immune system’s response to foreign substances as well as substances produced by your body. They also help prevent autoimmune disease. Clinical trials are looking at the best methods to boost your Tregs to treat allergies, cancer and other diseases.


What are regulatory T-cells?

Regulatory T-cells, or Tregs, are white blood cells that play a key role in regulating your immune system. Tregs control your body’s immune response to keep it from over-reacting to harmful invaders known as antigens. Antigens are frequently unwelcome substances that cause an immune response in your body. They stimulate the production of antibodies, which are proteins that fight against antigens.

Without Tregs, your immune system might react excessively, which could cause your body to attack its own cells. This may lead to autoimmune disease. In these cases, it may be best if your immune system doesn’t respond. Tregs know when to respond and when not to respond.

What are antigens?

Antigens are the enemies of your immune system. They can be toxins or the cause of allergies, disease and cancer. Some of them invade your body from outside. Others form inside your body. There are three basic types:

  • Foreign antigens: These substances come from outside your body. They include invaders such as bacteria, chemicals, parasites, toxins and viruses.
  • Self-antigens: These form inside your body on your cells and tissues. For instance, blood cells have antigens on them.
  • Neoantigens: These antigens form on cancer cells. Neoantigens are forms of self-antigens that have changed (mutated).


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What are the types of regulatory T-cells?

There are many subtypes, but researchers tend to classify regulatory T-cells into two overarching types:

  • Adaptive or induced Tregs (iTregs): iTregs target foreign antigens and neoantigens. Small proteins called cytokines signal these Tregs to start working.
  • Natural Tregs (nTregs): nTregs usually target self-antigens and work to control autoimmune inflammation.


What do regulatory T-cells do?

Tregs help to control your immune system’s response. They ensure that your body responds appropriately to foreign antigens and neoantigens.

At the same time, Tregs ensure that your immune system does not attack other self-antigens. Providers call this self-tolerance. This helps to protect you from autoimmune diseases.

Regulatory T-cells also:


What is the structure of regulatory T-cells?

Each Treg includes a T-cell receptor that responds to a specific antigen.


Where are regulatory T-cells produced?

Your thymus gland produces regulatory T-cells. This gland lives in the front of your chest, between your lungs and behind your breastbone (sternum).

Your thymus produces the hormone thymosin, which helps with the development of regulatory T-cells. When white blood cells (lymphocytes) travel through your thymus, they turn into T-cells. Once these T-cells mature, they travel to your lymph nodes.

Your thymus produces T-cells until you reach puberty. After that time, your thymus shrinks and fat replaces it.


Conditions and Disorders

How do regulatory T-cells help with other conditions?

Researchers are studying how to use regulatory T-cells to treat allergies, cancer and autoimmune diseases. This could potentially help control or cure conditions such as:

Increasing the number of T-cells in your body may boost your immune system’s anti-inflammatory properties. This can help prevent your body from attacking its own organs or systems.


What are simple lifestyle changes to keep regulatory T-cells healthy?

You can boost your immune system and stay healthier by:

Additional Common Questions

Can I ask my provider for treatment with regulatory T-cells?

You currently can’t get treatment with Tregs from your provider. Researchers continue to conduct clinical trials to look at the best ways to increase Tregs in your body. Some methods they are studying include:

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Regulatory T-cells, also called Tregs, are white blood cells that regulate your immune system response. Tregs control how your immune system reacts to unwelcome substances from outside and inside your body. They help to limit autoimmune disease by preventing your body from attacking its own cells. Researchers are studying how to increase your Tregs to help treat allergies, cancer and autoimmune diseases.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 07/13/2022.

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