The mechanisms by which commensal bacteria suppress inflammatory signalling in the gut are still unclear. Here, we present a cellular mechanism whereby the polarity of intestinal epithelial cells (IECs) has a major role in colonic homeostasis. TLR9 activation through apical and basolateral surface domains have distinct transcriptional responses, evident by NF-kappaB activation and cDNA microarray analysis. Whereas basolateral TLR9 signals IkappaBalpha degradation and activation of the NF-kappaB pathway, apical TLR9 stimulation invokes a unique response in which ubiquitinated IkappaB accumulates in the cytoplasm preventing NF-kappaB activation. Furthermore, apical TLR9 stimulation confers intracellular tolerance to subsequent TLR challenges. IECs in TLR9-deficient mice, when compared with wild-type and TLR2-deficient mice, display a lower NF-kappaB activation threshold and these mice are highly susceptible to experimental colitis. Our data provide a case for organ-specific innate immunity in which TLR expression in polarized IECs has uniquely evolved to maintain colonic homeostasis and regulate tolerance and inflammation.