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Int Immunol. 2004 Jun;16(6):799-809. Epub 2004 Apr 19.

Distinct responses of monocytes to Toll-like receptor ligands and inflammatory cytokines.

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Department of Neuroimmunology, Max-Planck-Institute of Neurobiology, D-82152 Martinsried, Germany.


In this study we compared the activation of monocytes by different bacterial products via Toll-like receptors (TLR), and by different proinflammatory mediators. In response to TLR-2, -4 and -5 engagement, approximately 50% of monocytes produced TNF-alpha, compared to only 5% after induction with IFN-gamma or GM-CSF. Furthermore, a small proportion of monocytes produced IL-10 after stimulation via TLR, but not after stimulation with cytokines. Both TLR-ligands and inflammatory cytokines induced the expression of CD25, CD69, CD80 and, surprisingly, also of CD83, commonly regarded as an activation marker for mature dendritic cells (DC). Conversely, TLR-ligands downregulated CD38, CD86 and ICOS-L. Importantly, signaling lymphocytic activation molecule (SLAM; CD150) was identified as a monocyte activation marker that could be induced ex novo via TLR-2, -4 and -5, but not by single stimulation with monocyte activators like IL-1, TNF-alpha, IFN-beta, IFN-gamma, GM-CSF or CD40-L. SLAM expression was transient and required mitogen activated protein kinase (MAPK) p38, but not ERK or JNK, and was surprisingly independent of NF-kappaB. SLAM+ monocytes, which are absent in blood, were detected in spleen and tonsils, where they could be localized to T-cell areas and germinal centers. Together, by comparing the response of monocytes to TLR-ligands and inflammatory cytokines, we have identified a monocyte activation marker, SLAM, which differs in its inducibility from other monocyte activation markers. SLAM+ monocytes and macrophages were identified for the first time in vivo. Their presence might be a sign of innate immune activation.

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