Background: Staphylococcus aureus colonization is common in atopic keratoconjunctivitis, potentially activating epithelial cells via toll-like receptor 2 (TLR-2) and the receptor for platelet-activating factor (PAFR).
Objectives: To examine human conjunctival epithelial cells for the expression of TLR-2 in vitro and in vivo and to evaluate the role of TLR-2 in S aureus-mediated activation of these cells.
Methods: Conjunctival epithelial cells isolated from cadaveric tissues were stimulated with interferon gamma (IFN-gamma) or a commercial S aureus cell wall extract (Staphylococcus aureus-CWE) (with or without anti-TLR-2 blocking antibody or PAFR antagonist) and were analyzed for tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha) and interleukin 8 (IL-8) release; surface expression of TLR-2, intercellular adhesion molecule-1, HLA, and CD14; and TLR-2 messenger RNA expression. Ocular surface cells collected via impression cytology were examined for TLR-2 expression via flow cytometry.
Results: Expression of TLR-2 was up-regulated on conjunctival epithelial cells by IFN-gamma and Staphylococcus aureus-CWE. Expression of TLR-2 messenger RNA was increased by IFN-gamma. Staphylococcus aureus-CWE up-regulated intercellular adhesion molecule 1, HLA, and CD14 expression and increased TNF-alpha and IL-8 release in a dose-dependent manner. Anti-TLR-2 significantly inhibited TNF-alpha release, whereas PAFR antagonist significantly inhibited IL-8 release. Toll-like receptor 2 was expressed on conjunctival epithelial cells from 4 of 5 patients with atopic keratoconjunctivitis, 3 of 5 with seasonal allergies, and 0 of 3 without allergies.
Conclusions: Conjunctival epithelial cells express TLR-2 and may play an active role in the chronic ocular inflammatory response to S aureus through pathways that involve TLR-2 and PAFR.