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Immunol Rev. 2005 Apr;204:27-42.

Toll-like receptors, endogenous ligands, and systemic autoimmune disease.

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Department of Medicine, Renal Section, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA 02118, USA.


The critical role of Toll-like receptors (TLRs) as mediators of pathogen recognition by the innate immune system is now firmly established. Such recognition results in the initiation of an inflammatory immune response and subsequent instruction of the adaptive immune system, both of which are designed to rid the host of the invading pathogen. More controversial is the potential role of TLRs in the recognition of endogenous ligands and what effect this might have on the consequent development of autoimmune or other chronic sterile inflammatory disorders. An increasing number of studies implicate TLRs as being involved in the immune response to self-molecules that have in some way been altered from their native state or accumulate in non-physiologic sites or amounts, although questions have been raised about possible contaminants in certain of these studies. In this review, we discuss the evidence for endogenous ligand-TLR interactions with particular emphasis on mammalian chromatin, systemic lupus erythematosus, and atherosclerosis. Overall, the data support the general concept of a role for TLRs in the recognition of endogenous ligands. However, the precise details of the interactions and the extent to which they may contribute to the pathogenesis of human disease remain to be clarified.

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