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Two-way coupled direct numerical simulations are used to investigate the effects of inertial particles on self-sustained, turbulent coherent structures (i.e. the so-called regeneration cycle) in plane Couette flow at low Reynolds number just above the onset of transition. Tests show two limiting behaviours with increasing particle inertia, similar to the results from previous linear stability analyses: low-inertia particles trigger the laminar-to-turbulent instability whereas high-inertia particles tend to stabilize turbulence due to the extra dissipation induced by particle–fluid coupling. Furthermore, it is found that the streamwise coupling between phases is the dominant factor in damping of the turbulence and is highly related to the spatial distribution of the particles. The presence of particles in different turbulent coherent structures (large-scale vortices or large-scale streaks) determines the turbulent kinetic energy of particulate phase, which is related to the particle response time scaled by the turnover time of large-scale vortices. By quantitatively investigating the periodic character of the whole regeneration cycle and the phase difference between linked sub-steps, we show that the presence of inertial particles does not alter the periodic nature of the cycle or the relative length of each of the sub-steps. Instead, high-inertia particles greatly weaken the large-scale vortices as well as the streamwise vorticity stretching and lift-up effects, thereby suppressing the fluctuating amplitude of the large-scale streaks. The primary influence of low-inertia particles, however, is to strengthen the large-scale vortices, which fosters the cycle and ultimately reduces the critical Reynolds number.