Regulatory T (Treg) cells, an immunosuppressive subset of CD4+ T cells characterized by the expression of the master transcription factor forkhead box protein P3 (FOXP3), are a component of the immune system with essential roles in maintaining self-tolerance. In addition, Treg cells can suppress anticancer immunity, thereby hindering protective immunosurveillance of neoplasia and hampering effective antitumour immune responses in tumour-bearing hosts, thus promoting tumour development and progression. Identification of the factors that are specifically expressed in Treg cells and/or that influence Treg cell homeostasis and function is important to understanding cancer pathogenesis and to identifying therapeutic targets. Immune-checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs) have provided a paradigm shift in the treatment of cancer. Most immune-checkpoint molecules are expressed in Treg cells, but the effects of ICIs on Treg cells, and thus the contributions of these cells to treatment responses, remain unclear. Notably, evidence indicates that ICIs targeting programmed cell death 1 (PD-1) might enhance the immunosuppressive function of Treg cells, whereas cytotoxic T lymphocyte antigen 4 (CTLA-4) inhibitors might deplete these cells. Thus, although manipulation of Treg cells is a promising anticancer therapeutic strategy, approaches to controlling these cells require further research. Herein, we discuss novel insights into the roles of Treg cells in cancer, which can hopefully be used to develop Treg cell-targeted therapies and facilitate immune precision medicine.
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