Regulatory T cells are proposed to play a central role in the maintenance of immunological tolerance in the periphery, and studies in many animal models demonstrate their capacity to inhibit inflammatory pathologies in vivo. At a recent meeting [Clinical Application of Regulatory T Cells, 7–8 April 2005, Horsham, UK, organized by the authors of this review, in collaboration with the British Society for Immunology and Novartis] evidence was discussed that certain human autoimmune, infectious and allergic diseases are associated with impaired regulatory T-cell function. In contrast, evidence from several human cancer studies and some infections indicates that regulatory T cells may impair the development of protective immunity. Importantly, certain therapies, both those that act non-specifically to reduce inflammation and antigen-specific immunotherapies, may induce or enhance regulatory T-cell function. The purpose of this review was to summarize current knowledge on regulatory T-cell function in human disease, and to assess critically how this can be tailored to suit the therapeutic manipulation of immunity.