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Gastroenterology. 2013 Dec;145(6):1323-33. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2013.08.047. Epub 2013 Aug 28.

Toll-like receptor 2 regulates intestinal inflammation by controlling integrity of the enteric nervous system.

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Department of Molecular Medicine, University of Padova, Padova, Italy.



In the intestines, Toll-like receptor 2 (TLR2) mediates immune responses to pathogens and regulates epithelial barrier function; polymorphisms in TLR2 have been associated with inflammatory bowel disease phenotype. We assessed the effects of TLR2 signaling on the enteric nervous system (ENS) in mice.


TLR2 distribution and function in the ileal neuromuscular layer of mice were determined by immunofluorescence, cytofluorimetric analysis, immunoprecipitation, and immunoblot analyses. We assessed morphology and function of the ENS in Tlr2(-/-) mice and in mice with wild-type Tlr2 (wild-type mice) depleted of intestinal microbiota, using immunofluorescence, immunoblot, and gastrointestinal motility assays. Levels and signaling of glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) were determined using quantitative reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction, immunohistochemistry, and immunoprecipitation analyses. Colitis was induced by administration of dextran sulfate sodium or 2,4 dinitrobenzensulfonic acid to Tlr2(-/-) mice after termination of GDNF administration.


TLR2 was expressed in enteric neurons, glia, and smooth muscle cells of the intestinal wall. Tlr2(-/-) mice had alterations in ENS architecture and neurochemical profile, intestinal dysmotility, abnormal mucosal secretion, reduced levels of GDNF in smooth muscle cells, and impaired signaling via Ret-GFRα1. ENS structural and functional anomalies were completely corrected by administration of GDNF to Tlr2(-/-) mice. Wild-type mice depleted of intestinal microbiota had ENS defects and GDNF deficiency, similar to Tlr2(-/-) mice; these defects were partially restored by administration of a TLR2 agonist. Tlr2(-/-) mice developed more severe colitis than wild-type mice after administration of dextran sulfate sodium or 2,4 dinitrobenzensulfonic acid; colitis was not more severe if Tlr2(-/-) mice were given GDNF before dextran sulfate sodium or 2,4 dinitrobenzensulfonic acid.


In mice, TLR2 signaling regulates intestinal inflammation by controlling ENS structure and neurochemical coding, along with intestinal neuromuscular function. These findings provide information as to how defective TLR2 signaling in the ENS affects inflammatory bowel disease phenotype in humans.


2,4 dinitrobenzensulfonic acid; DNBS; EGC; ENS; GDNF; GFAP; IBD; Immune Regulation; Innate Immunity; LMMP; Microbe; TLR2; Toll-like receptor 2; Ulcerative Colitis; WT; enteric glial cells; enteric nervous system; glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor; glial fibrillary acidic protein; inflammatory bowel diseases; longitudinal smooth muscle-myenteric plexus; mRNA; messenger RNA; nNOS; neuronal nitric oxide synthase; rGDNF; recombinant histidine-tagged GDNF; wild type

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