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J Histochem Cytochem. 2009 Nov;57(11):1013-23. doi: 10.1369/jhc.2009.953539. Epub 2009 Jun 22.

Toll-like receptors 3, 4, and 7 are expressed in the enteric nervous system and dorsal root ganglia.

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Department of Human Morphology and Biomedical Sciences, Città Studi, 20133 Milano, Italy.


The aim of the present study was to evaluate the expression of innate immunity receptors belonging to the Toll-like family in the neural plexuses of the different tracts of murine intestine, of the human ileum, and in lower dorsal root ganglia (DRGs) from where extrinsic afferents to these plexuses originate. Results obtained by immunohistochemistry and immunofluorescence on paraffin-embedded tissue and whole-mount preparations show that Toll-like receptors (TLRs) -3 and -7, recognizing viral RNA, and TLR4, recognizing lipopolysaccharide (membrane component of Gram-negative bacteria), are expressed in the myenteric and submucous plexuses of murine intestine and human ileum, and in DRGs primary sensory neurons. They also show that TLR4 immunostaining is stronger in murine distal large bowel. In murine tissue, expression of TLRs was present in both neurons and glial cells. These observations indicate that the enteric neural network might be directly activated by bacterial and viral components and is therefore more in the forefront than previously envisaged in defense responses of the intestinal wall and in the cross-talk with intestinal microbiota. They also highlight the presence of a peripheral neural network that by way of hardwired neurotransmission could potentially convey to the central nervous system specific information on our microbial counterpart and invading or potentially invading pathogens.

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