How we detect microbes and respond to them: the Toll-like receptors and their transducers

J Leukoc Biol. 2003 Oct;74(4):479-85. doi: 10.1189/jlb.0203082. Epub 2003 Jul 1.


Macrophages and dendritic cells are in the front line of host defense. When they sense host invasion, they produce cytokines that alert other innate immune cells and also abet the development of an adaptive immune response. Although lipolysaccharide (LPS), peptidoglycan, unmethylated DNA, and other microbial products were long known to be the primary targets of innate immune recognition, there was puzzlement as to how each molecule triggered a response. It is now known that the Toll-like receptors (TLRs) are the principal signaling molecules through which mammals sense infection. Each TLR recognizes a restricted subset of molecules produced by microbes, and in some circumstances, only a single type of molecule is sensed (e.g., only LPS is sensed by TLR4). TLRs direct the activation of immune cells near to and far from the site of infection, mobilizing the comparatively vast immune resources of the host to confine and defeat an invasive organism before it has become widespread. The biochemical details of TLR signaling have been analyzed through forward and reverse genetic methods, and full elucidation of the molecular interactions that transpire within the first minutes following contact between host and pathogen will soon be at hand.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptor Proteins, Signal Transducing
  • Animals
  • Antigens, Differentiation / physiology
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate*
  • Infections / immunology*
  • Inflammation / immunology
  • Lipopolysaccharides / toxicity
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / physiology*
  • Myeloid Differentiation Factor 88
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / physiology*
  • Receptors, Immunologic / physiology
  • Sepsis / immunology
  • Signal Transduction*
  • Toll-Like Receptor 4
  • Toll-Like Receptors


  • Adaptor Proteins, Signal Transducing
  • Antigens, Differentiation
  • Lipopolysaccharides
  • MYD88 protein, human
  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Myeloid Differentiation Factor 88
  • Receptors, Cell Surface
  • Receptors, Immunologic
  • TLR4 protein, human
  • Toll-Like Receptor 4
  • Toll-Like Receptors