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Curr Opin Immunol. 2019 Feb;56:60-66. doi: 10.1016/j.coi.2018.09.018. Epub 2018 Oct 24.

Dead or alive: how the immune system detects microbial viability.

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Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens, Berlin, Germany; Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, Berlin, Germany.
Department of Infectious Diseases and Pulmonary Medicine, Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Corporate Member of Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, and Berlin Institute of Health, Berlin, Germany; German Center for Lung Research (DZL), Berlin, Germany. Electronic address:


Immune detection of microbial viability is increasingly recognized as a potent driver of innate and adaptive immune responses. Here we describe recent mechanistic insights into the process of how the immune system discriminates between viable and non-viable microbial matter. Accumulating evidence suggests a key role for microbial RNA as a widely conserved viability associated PAMP (vita-PAMP) and a molecular signal of increased infectious threat. Toll-like receptor 8 (TLR8) has recently emerged as a critical sensor for viable bacteria, ssRNA viruses, and archaea in human antigen presenting cells (APC). We discuss the role of microbial RNA, and other potential vita-PAMPs in antimicrobial immunity and vaccine responses.

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