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Dev Neurosci. 2013;35(2-3):130-9. doi: 10.1159/000346158. Epub 2013 Mar 16.

Toll-like receptor 3 expression in glia and neurons alters in response to white matter injury in preterm infants.

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Centre for the Developing Brain, Division of Imaging Sciences and Biomedical Engineering, The Rayne Institute, King's College London St. Thomas' Hospital, London, UK.


Toll-like receptors (TLRs) are members of the pattern recognition receptor family that detect components of foreign pathogens or endogenous molecules released in response to injury. Recent studies demonstrate that TLRs also have a functional role in regulating neuronal proliferation in the developing brain. This study investigated cellular expression of TLR3 using immunohistochemistry on human brain tissue. The tissue sections analysed contained anterior and lateral periventricular white matter from the frontal and parietal lobes in post-mortem neonatal cases with a postmenstrual age range of 23.6-31.4 weeks. In addition to preterm brains without overt pathology (control), preterm pathology cases with evidence of white matter injuries (WMI) were also examined. In order to identify TLR-positive cells, we utilized standard double-labelling immunofluorescence co-labelling techniques and confocal microscopy to compare co-expression of TLR3 with a neuronal marker (NeuN) or with glial markers (GFAP for astrocytes, Iba-1 for microglia and Olig2 for oligodendrocytes). We observed an increase in the neuronal (28 vs. 17%) and astroglial (38 vs. 21%) populations in the WMI group compared to controls in the anterior regions of the periventricular white matter in the frontal lobe. The increase in neurons and astrocytes in the WMI cases was associated with an increase in TLR3 immunoreactivity. This expression was significantly increased in the astroglia. The morphology of the TLR3 signal in the control cases was globular and restricted to the perinuclear region of the neurons and astrocytes, whilst in the cases of WMI, both neuronal, axonal and astroglial TLR3 expression was more diffuse (i.e., a different intracellular distribution) and could be detected along the extensions of the processes. This study demonstrates for the first time that neurons and glial cells in human neonatal periventricular white matter express TLR3 during development. The patterns of TLR3 expression were altered in the presence of WMI, which might influence normal developmental processes within the immature brain. Identifying changes in TLR3 expression during fetal development may be key to understanding the reduced volumes of grey matter and impaired cortical development seen in preterm infants.

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