Approximately 20% of the population is affected by autoimmune or inflammatory diseases mediated by an abnormal immune response. A characteristic feature of autoimmune disease is the selective targeting of a single cell type, organ or tissue by certain populations of autoreactive T-cells. Examples of such diseases include rheumatoid arthritis, insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), all of which are characterized by chronic inflammation, tissue destruction and target organ malfunction. Although strong evidence links most autoimmune diseases to specific genes, considerable controversy prevails regarding the role of regulatory T-cell populations in the disease process. These cells are now also believed to play a key role in mediating transplantation tolerance and inhibiting the induction of tumor immunity. Though the concept of therapeutic immune regulation aimed at treating autoimmune pathology has been validated in many animal models, the development of strategies for the treatment of human autoimmune disorders remains in its infancy. The main obstacles to this include the conflicting findings of different model systems, as well as the contrasting functions of regulatory T-cells and cytokines involved in the development of such disorders. This review examines the role of regulatory T-cells in the pathogenesis of autoimmunity and describes the therapeutic potential of these cells for the prevention of immune-mediated pathologies in the future. Although much remains to be learned about such pathologies, a clearer understanding of the mechanisms by which regulatory T-cells function will undoubtedly lead to exciting new possibilities for immunotherapeutics. (c) 2006 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.