Background & aims: Toll-like receptors (TLRs) represent a class of transmembrane pattern recognition receptors essential for microbial recognition and control of innate immune responses. Commensal bacteria play an important role in maintaining tolerance and active stability of the intestinal epithelial barrier by suppressing intestinal inflammation, yet the mechanisms of action are unknown. The aim of this study was to determine the functional relevance of TLR2 to control tight junction (TJ)-associated intestinal epithelial barrier integrity to balance mucosal homeostasis against inflammatory stress-induced damage.
Methods: TLR2 ligand (synthetic Pam(3)Cys-SK4 [PCSK])-induced activation of signaling cascades and TJ-associated distribution was assessed by using Western blotting and confocal microscopy combined with functional transfection and inhibitor studies in model intestinal epithelial cell (IEC) lines (IEC-6, Caco-2) or primary IEC cultured short-term ex vivo. DSS colitis was induced by standard protocol in wild-type, TLR2-/-, and MyD88-/- mice. Spontaneous apoptosis was assessed by terminal deoxinucleotidyl-transferase-mediated dUTP-biotin nick end-labeling.
Results: Data from in vitro and ex vivo models of intestinal epithelial cells revealed that TLR2 stimulation effectively preserves TJ-associated barrier assembly against stress-induced damage through promotion of PI3K/Akt-mediated cell survival via MyD88. Furthermore, in vivo studies underscored that TLR2-mediated TJ regulation critically determines susceptibility to intestinal injury and inflammation. Inflammatory stress in mice deficient of TLR2 or MyD88 induced early TJ-associated disruption interrelated with anti-apoptotic failure of the intestinal epithelial barrier. Oral treatment of colitis with the TLR2 ligand PCSK significantly suppressed mucosal inflammation and apoptosis by efficiently restoring TJ-associated integrity of the intestinal epithelium in vivo.
Conclusion: TLR2 may provide a target to pharmacologically modulate mucosal injury and intestinal inflammation.