Toll-like Receptor 7 Is Reduced in Severe Asthma and Linked to an Altered MicroRNA Profile

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Asthma is one of the most common chronic diseases worldwide, and individuals with severe asthma experience recurrent exacerbations. Exacerbations are predominantly viral associated and have been linked to defective airway IFN responses. Ascertaining the molecular mechanisms underlying this deficiency is a major research goal to identify new therapeutic targets.


We investigated the hypothesis that reduced Toll-like receptor 7 (TLR7)-derived signaling drove the impaired IFN responses to rhinovirus by asthmatic alveolar macrophages (AMs); the molecular mechanisms underlying this deficiency were explored.


AMs were recovered from bronchoalveolar lavage from healthy subjects and patients with severe asthma. Expression of pattern-recognition receptors and microRNAs was evaluated by quantitative polymerase chain reaction and Western blotting. A TLR7-luciferase reporter construct was created to evaluate binding of microRNAs to the 3′ untranslated region of TLR7. IFN production was measured by quantitative polymerase chain reaction and ELISA.

Measurements and Main Results:

The expression of TLR7 was significantly reduced in severe asthma AMs and was associated with reduced rhinovirus and imiquimod-induced IFN responses by these cells compared with healthy AMs. Severe asthma AMs also expressed increased levels of three microRNAs, which we showed were able to directly reduce TLR7 expression. Ex vivo knockdown of these microRNAs restored TLR7 expression with concomitant augmentation of virus-induced IFN production.


In severe asthma, TLR7 deficiency drives impaired innate immune responses to virus by AMs. Blocking a group of microRNAs that are up-regulated in these cells can restore antiviral innate responses, providing a novel approach for therapy in asthma.

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