COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is an inflammatory disorder of the airways, which is associated with irreversible airway obstruction. The pathological hallmarks of COPD are destruction of the lung parenchyma (pulmonary emphysema), inflammation of the central airways (chronic bronchitis) and inflammation of the peripheral airways (respiratory bronchiolitis). Tobacco smoking is established as the main aetiological factor for COPD. A maladaptive modulation of inflammatory responses to inhalation of noxious particles and gases is generally accepted as being a key central pathogenic process; however, the precise regulatory mechanisms of the disease are poorly understood. Two cell types are known to be important in immune regulation, namely regulatory T-cells and the newly identified Th17 (T-helper 17) cells. Both types of cells are subsets of CD4 T-lymphocytes and modulate the immune response through secretion of cytokines, for example IL (interleukin)-10 and IL-17 respectively. The present review will begin by describing the current understanding of inflammatory cell involvement in the disease process, and then focus on the possible role of subsets of regulatory and helper T-cells in COPD.

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