Over the past 3 years our knowledge about how we sense the microbial world has been fundamentally changed. It has been known for decades that microbial products, such as lipopolysaccharide, lipoproteins, or peptidoglycan, have a profound activity on human cells. Whereas the structure of many different pathogenic microbial compounds has been extensively studied and characterized, the molecular basis of their recognition by the cells of the innate immune system remained elusive for a long time. It was Charles Janeway [Cold Spring Harb Symp Quant Biol 1989;54/1:1-13] who developed the idea of microbial structures forming pathogen-associated molecular patterns that would be recognized by pattern recognition receptors. The discovery of the family of Toll receptors in species as diverse as DROSOPHILA and humans, and the recognition of their role in distinguishing molecular patterns that are common to microorganisms have led to a renewed appreciation of the innate immune system. Moreover, it is now clear that the activation of the innate immune system through mammalian Toll-like receptors has also an instructive role for the responses of the adaptive immune response and, thus, may influence allergic diseases such as asthma.
Copyright 2003 S. Karger AG, Basel