PLoS pathogens 2018 02 1514(2) e1006776 doi 10.1371/journal.ppat.1006776
Tight regulation of immune responses is not only critical for preventing autoimmune diseases but also for preventing immunopathological damage during infections in which overactive immune responses may be more harmful for the host than the pathogen itself. Regulatory T cells (Tregs) play a critical role in this regulation, which was discovered using the Friend retrovirus (FV) mouse model. Subsequent FV studies revealed basic biological information about Tregs, including their suppressive activity on effector cells as well as the molecular mechanisms of virus-induced Treg expansion. Treg suppression not only limits immunopathology but also prevents complete elimination of pathogens contributing to chronic infections. Therefore, Tregs play a complex role in the pathogenesis of persistent retroviral infections. New therapeutic concepts to reactivate effector T-cell responses in chronic viral infections by manipulating Tregs also came from work with the FV model. This knowledge initiated many studies to characterize the role of Tregs in HIV pathogenesis in humans, where a complex picture is emerging. On one hand, Tregs suppress HIV-specific effector T-cell responses and are themselves targets of infection, but on the other hand, Tregs suppress HIV-induced immune hyperactivation and thus slow the infection of conventional CD4+ T cells and limit immunopathology. In this review, the basic findings from the FV mouse model are put into perspective with clinical and basic research from HIV studies. In addition, the few Treg studies performed in the simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) monkey model will also be discussed. The review provides a comprehensive picture of the diverse role of Tregs in different retroviral infections and possible therapeutic approaches to treat retroviral chronicity and pathogenesis by manipulating Treg responses.