Emerging Significance of NLRs in Inflammatory Bowel Disease

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Pattern recognition receptors are essential mediators of host defense and inflammation in the gastrointestinal system. Recent data have revealed that toll-like receptors and nucleotide-binding domain and leucine-rich repeat-containing proteins (NLRs) function to maintain homeostasis between the host microbiome and mucosal immunity. The NLR proteins are a diverse class of cytoplasmic pattern recognition receptors. In humans, only about half of the identified NLRs have been adequately characterized. The majority of well-characterized NLRs participate in the formation of a multiprotein complex, termed the inflammasome, which is responsible for the maturation of interleukin-1β and interleukin-18. However, recent observations have also uncovered the presence of a novel subgroup of NLRs that function as positive or negative regulators of inflammation through modulating critical signaling pathways, including NF-κB. Dysregulation of specific NLRs from both proinflammatory and inhibitory subgroups have been associated with the development of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in genetically susceptible human populations. Our own preliminary retrospective data mining efforts have identified a diverse range of NLRs that are significantly altered at the messenger RNA level in colons from patients with IBD. Likewise, studies using genetically modified mouse strains have revealed that multiple NLR family members have the potential to dramatically modulate the immune response during IBD. Targeting NLR signaling represents a promising and novel therapeutic strategy. However, significant effort is necessary to translate the current understanding of NLR biology into effective therapies.

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