T regulatory cells as a potential therapeutic target in psychosis? Current challenges and future perspectives

Fabiana Corsi-zuelli, Bill Deakin, Mikhael Haruo Fernandes De Lima, Omar Qureshi, Nicholas M. Barnes, Rachel Upthegrove, Paulo Louzada-junior, Cristina Marta Del-ben

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Many studies have reported that patients with psychosis, even before drug treatment, have mildly raised levels of blood cytokines relative to healthy controls. In contrast, there is a remarkable scarcity of studies investigating the cellular basis of immune function and cytokine changes in psychosis. The few flow-cytometry studies have been limited to counting the proportion of the major classes of monocyte and lymphocytes without distinguishing their pro- and anti-inflammatory subsets. Moreover, most of the investigations are cross-sectional and conducted with patients on long-term medication. These features make it difficult to eliminate confounding of illness-related changes by lifestyle factors, disease duration, and long exposure to antipsychotics. This article focuses on regulatory T cells (Tregs), cornerstone immune cells that regulate innate and adaptive immune forces and neuroimmune interactions between astrocytes and microglia. Tregs are also implicated in cardio-metabolic disorders that are common comorbidities of psychosis. We have recently proposed that Tregs are hypofunctional (‘h-Tregs’) in psychosis driven by our clinical findings and other independent research. Our h-Treg-glial imbalance hypothesis offers a new account for the co-occurrence of systemic immune dysregulation and mechanisms of psychosis development. This article extends our recent review, the h-Treg hypothesis, to cover new discoveries on Treg-based therapies from pre-clinical findings and their clinical implications. We provide a detailed characterisation of Treg studies in psychosis, identifying important methodological limitations and perspectives for scientific innovation. The outcomes presented in this article reaffirms our proposed h-Treg state in psychosis and reveals emerging preclinical research suggesting the potential benefit of Treg-enhancing therapies. There is a clear need for longitudinal studies conducted with drug-naïve or minimally treated patients using more sophisticated techniques of flow-cytometry, CyTOF expression markers, and in vitro co-culture assays to formally test the suppressive capacity of Tregs. Investment in Treg research offers major potential benefits in targeting emerging immunomodulatory treatment modalities on person-specific immune dysregulations.
Original languageEnglish
Article number100330
Number of pages14
JournalBrain, Behaviour, and Immunity Health
Early online date19 Aug 2021
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021


  • Adaptive immune system
  • FoxP3
  • Interleukin-6
  • Psychosis
  • Regulatory T cells
  • Schizophrenia
  • Tregs


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