Toll-like receptors and their role in gastrointestinal disease

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Abstract

The innate immune response to invading pathogens is centred upon a family of non-clonal, germline-encoded pattern recognition receptors (PRRs), the Toll-like receptors (TLRs). These provide specificity for a vast range of microbial pathogens, and offer an immediate anti-microbial response system. Thirteen mammalian TLRs have been described; 10 are expressed in humans, each responsible for the recognition of distinct, invariant microbial structures originating from bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoa. The two most thoroughly studied are TLR4 and TLR2, the PRRs for Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacterial products, respectively. TLR4 is also the major receptor recognising endogenous ligands released from damaged or dying cells. Activation of a TLR by its relevant ligand rapidly ignites a complex intracellular signaling cascade that ultimately results in upregulation of inflammatory genes and production of proinflammatory cytokines, interferons and recruitment of myeloid cells. It also stimulates expression, upon antigen presenting cells, of co-stimulatory molecules required to induce an adaptive immune response. Whilst a robust TLR response is critical for survival and defence against invading pathogens, inappropriate signaling in response to alterations in the local microflora environment can be detrimental. Such ‘unhelpful TLR responses’ could form the basis for a large number of gastrointestinal and liver disorders, including inflammatory bowel disease, viral hepatitis, autoimmune liver diseases and hepatic fibrosis. As our understanding of TLRs expands, the pathogenesis of a number of gastrointestinal disorders will be further elucidated, and this offers potential for specific therapies aimed directly at TLR signaling.

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