Molecular insights on the cerebral innate immune system

Brain Behav Immun. 2003 Feb;17(1):13-9. doi: 10.1016/s0889-1591(02)00055-7.


All species need an immediate reply to the microbial pathogens that is part of an effective immune response and is essential for the survival of most organisms. This reply is known as the innate immune response and is characterized by the de novo production of mediators that either kill the microbes directly or activate phagocytic cells to ingest and kill them. The innate immune response can be driven through specific recognition systems, the best example being an interaction between the endotoxin lipopolysaccharide (LPS) and its receptors CD14 and Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4). For a long time, the brain was considered to be a privileged organ from an immunological point of view, owing to its inability to mount an immune response and process antigens. Although this is partly true, the CNS shows a well-organized innate immune reaction in response to systemic bacterial infection and cerebral injury. The CD14 and TLR4 receptors are constitutively expressed in the circumventricular organs (CVOs), choroid plexus and leptomeninges. Circulating LPS is able to cause a rapid transcriptional activation of genes encoding CD14 and TLR2, as well as a wide variety of pro-inflammatory molecules in CVOs. A delayed response to LPS takes place in cells located at boundaries of the CVOs and in microglia across the CNS. Therefore, without having direct access to the brain parenchyma, pathogens have the ability to trigger an innate immune reaction throughout cerebral tissue. This review presents evidence supporting the existence of such a system in the brain, which is finely regulated at the transcription level. Transient activation of this system is not harmful toward neuronal elements.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / immunology*
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Cytokines / genetics
  • Gene Expression
  • Glucocorticoids / metabolism
  • Inflammation Mediators / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction


  • Cytokines
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Inflammation Mediators