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J Virol. 2013 Mar;87(6):3261-70. doi: 10.1128/JVI.01956-12. Epub 2013 Jan 9.

Toll-like receptor expression and induction of type I and type III interferons in primary airway epithelial cells.

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The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital, Columbus, OH, USA.


Interferons (IFNs) are a critical component of the first line of antiviral defense. The activation of Toll-like receptors (TLRs) expressed by dendritic cells triggers different signaling cascades that result in the production of large amounts of IFNs. However, the functional consequences of TLR activation and differential IFN production in specific cell populations other than antigen-presenting cells have not yet been fully elucidated. In this study, we investigated TLR expression and polarization in airway epithelial cells (AECs) and the consequences of TLR agonist stimulation for the production of type I (IFN-α/β) and type III (IFN-λ) IFNs. Our results show that the pattern of expression and polarization of all TLRs in primary AEC cultures mirrors that of the human airways ex vivo and is receptor specific. The antiviral TLRs (TLR3, TLR7, and TLR9) are mostly expressed on the apical cell surfaces of epithelial cells in the human trachea and in primary polarized AECs. Type III IFN is the predominant IFN produced by the airway epithelium, and TLR3 is the only TLR that mediates IFN production by AECs, while all TLR agonists tested are capable of inducing AEC activation and interleukin-8 production. In response to influenza virus infection, AECs can produce IFN-λ in an IFNAR- and STAT1-independent manner. Our results emphasize the importance of using primary well-differentiated AECs to study TLR and antiviral responses and provide further insight into the regulation of IFN production during the antiviral response of the lung epithelium.

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