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Nat Immunol. 2003 Aug;4(8):794-800. Epub 2003 Jul 20.

Binding of the Drosophila cytokine Spätzle to Toll is direct and establishes signaling.

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Department of Biochemistry, University of Cambridge, 80 Tennis Court Road, Cambridge CB2 1GA, United Kingdom.


The extracellular protein Spätzle is required for activation of the Toll signaling pathway in the embryonic development and innate immune defense of Drosophila. Spätzle is synthesized as a pro-protein and is processed to a functional form by a serine protease. We show here that the mature form of Spätzle triggers a Toll-dependent immune response after injection into the hemolymph of flies. Spätzle specifically bound to Drosophila cells and to Cos-7 cells expressing Toll. Furthermore, in vitro experiments showed that the mature form of Spätzle bound to the Toll ectodomain with high affinity and with a stoichiometry of one Spätzle dimer to two receptors. The Spätzle pro-protein was inactive in all these assays, indicating that the pro-domain sequence, which is natively unstructured, acts to prevent interaction of the cytokine and its receptor Toll. These results show that, in contrast to the human Toll-like receptors, Drosophila Toll requires only an endogenous protein ligand for activation and signaling.

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