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J Neuroimmunol. 2005 Feb;159(1-2):12-9. Epub 2004 Nov 11.

Preferential expression and function of Toll-like receptor 3 in human astrocytes.

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Department of Neuroimmunology, Max-Planck-Institute of Neurobiology, Am Klopferspitz 18, D-82152 Martinsried, Germany.


In contrast to other tissues, the central nervous system (CNS) is essentially devoid of MHC expression and shielded from antibodies by the blood-brain barrier. Therefore, a rapid local innate immune response by resident brain cells is required to effectively fight infectious agents. This study analyzed the expression and function of Toll-like receptors (TLRs) in cultured human astrocytes. Quantitative PCR for TLRs 1 to 10 showed a basal expression of TLR3 that could be enhanced by IFN-gamma, IL-1beta, and IFN-beta. The other TLRs were barely detectable and not inducible by the same cytokines. IFN-gamma-activated astrocytes responded to TLR3 ligand poly (I:C) engagement with IL-6 production, while ligands of other TLRs, like LPS, lipoteichoic acid, peptidoglycan, flagellin, and CpG, had no effect. Poly (I:C) also triggered astrocyte production of TNF-alpha and the chemokines CCL2/MCP-1, CCL5/RANTES, CCL20/MIP-3alpha, and CXCL10/IP-10. The adapter molecules MyD88 (full length and short isoform), TIRAP/Mal, and TICAM-1/TRIF, which are required for TLR signaling, were all expressed by astrocytes. Thus, resting and activated human astrocytes express preferentially TLR3 and, upon TLR3 engagement, produce IL-6 and chemokines active on T cells, B cells, monocytes, and dendritic cells. These data indicate that astrocytes function as sentinels for viral infections in the CNS.

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