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Genome Biol. 2002 Jul 29;3(8):REVIEWS3011. Epub 2002 Jul 29.

Toll-like receptors: a family of pattern-recognition receptors in mammals.

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  • 1Pulmonary Center, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA 02118-2394, USA.


The innate immune system uses a variety of germline-encoded pattern-recognition receptors that recognize conserved microbial structures or pathogen-associated molecular patterns, such as those that occur in the bacterial cell-wall components peptidoglycan and lipopolysaccharide. Recent studies have highlighted the importance of Toll-like receptors (TLRs) as a family of pattern-recognition receptors in mammals that can discriminate between chemically diverse classes of microbial products. First identified on the basis of sequence similarity with the Drosophila protein Toll, TLRs are members of an ancient superfamily of proteins, which includes related proteins in invertebrates and plants. TLRs activate innate immune defense reactions, such as the release of inflammatory cytokines, but increasing evidence supports an additional critical role for TLRs in orchestrating the development of adaptive immune responses. The sequence similarity between the intracellular domains of the TLRs and the mammalian interleukin-1 and interleukin-18 cytokine receptors reflects the use of a common intracellular signal-transduction cascade triggered by these receptor classes. But more recent findings have demonstrated that there are in fact TLR-specific signaling pathways and cellular responses. Thus, TLRs function as sentinels of the mammalian immune system that can discriminate between diverse pathogen-associated molecular patterns and then elicit pathogen-specific cellular immune responses.

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