Toll-like receptors in health and disease in the brain: mechanisms and therapeutic potential

Mark L. Hanke, Tammy Kielian

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

392 Scopus citations


The discovery of mammalian TLRs (Toll-like receptors), first identified in 1997 based on their homology with Drosophila Toll, greatly altered our understanding of how the innate immune system recognizes and responds to diverse microbial pathogens. TLRs are evolutionarily conserved type I transmembrane proteins expressed in both immune and non-immune cells, and are typified by N-terminal leucine-rich repeats and a highly conserved C-terminal domain termed the TIR [Toll/interleukin (IL)-1 receptor] domain. Upon stimulation with their cognate ligands, TLR signalling elicits the production of cytokines, enzymes and other inflammatory mediators that can have an impact on several aspects of CNS (central nervous system) homoeostasis and pathology. For example, TLR signalling plays a crucial role in initiating host defence responses during CNS microbial infection. Furthermore, TLRs are targets for many adjuvants which help shape pathogen-specific adaptive immune responses in addition to triggering innate immunity. Our knowledge of TLR expression and function in the CNS has greatly expanded over the last decade, with new data revealing that TLRs also have an impact on non-infectious CNS diseases/injury. In particular, TLRs recognize a number of endogenous molecules liberated from damaged tissues and, as such, influence inflammatory responses during tissue injury and autoimmunity. In addition, recent studies have implicated TLR involvement during neurogenesis, and learning and memory in the absence of any underlying infectious aetiology.Owing to their presence and immune-regulatory role within the brain, TLRs represent an attractive therapeutic target for numerous CNS disorders and infectious diseases. However, it is clear that TLRs can exert either beneficial or detrimental effects in the CNS, which probably depend on the context of tissue homoeostasis or pathology. Therefore any potential therapeutic manipulation of TLRs will require an understanding of the signals governing specific CNS disorders to achieve tailored therapy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)367-387
Number of pages21
JournalClinical Science
Issue number9
StatePublished - Nov 2011


  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Bacterial meningitis
  • Central nervous system
  • Learning andmemory
  • Neurogenesis
  • Toll-like receptor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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