Mounting evidence indicates that immune activation and/or immuno-inflammatory reactions during neurodevelopment apparently contribute to the pathogenesis and progression of schizophrenia. One of the important environmental factors that is known to trigger immune activation/inflammatory responses during early pregnancy is prenatal infection. Recent understanding from animal studies suggests that prenatal infection induced maternal immune activation (MIA)/inflammation in congruence with oxidative/nitrosative stress can lead to neurodevelopmental damage and behavioral abnormalities in the offspring.
Although the underlying precise mechanistic processes of MIA/inflammation are yet to be completely elucidated, it is being increasingly recognized that Toll-like receptors (TLRs) that form the first line of defense against invading microorganisms could participate in the prenatal infection induced immune insults. Interestingly, some of the TLRs, especially TLR3 and TLR4 that modulate neurodevelopment, neuronal survival and neuronal plasticity by regulating the neuro-immune cross-talk in the developing and adult brain could also be affected by prenatal infection. Importantly, sustained activation of TLR3/TLR4 due to environmental factors including infection and stress has been found to generate excessive reactive oxygen species (ROS)/reactive nitrogen species (RNS) as well as pro-inflammatory mediators during embryogenesis, which result into neuronal damage by necrosis/apoptosis.
In recent times, ROS/RNS and immuno-inflammatory mediators are being increasingly linked to progressive brain changes in schizophrenia. Although a significant role of TLR3/TLR4 in neurodegeneration is gaining certainty, their importance in establishing a causal link between prenatal infection and immuno-inflammatory, oxidative and nitrosative stress (IO&NS) responses and influence on adult presentation of schizophrenia is yet to be ascertained. We review here the current knowledge generated from the animal and human studies on the role of TLRs in schizophrenia and finally propose the “TRIPS Hypothesis” (Toll-like receptors in immuno-inflammatory pathogenesis) to elucidate the underlying mechanism(s) of TLR-mediated risk of schizophrenia. Considering the established role of TLR3 and TLR4 in antiviral and antibacterial responses respectively, we believe that in some cases of schizophrenia where IO&NS responses are evident, prenatal infection might lead to neuroprogressive changes in a TLR3/TLR4-dependent way.