Toll-like receptor (TLR) 4 responds to a range of agonists in infection and injury, but is best known for the recognition of bacterial lipopolysaccharides (LPS). Assembly in heterologous receptor complexes as well as signaling through both MyD88 and TRIF adaptor proteins, as unmatched by other TLRs, could underlie its versatile response options, probably also in a cell type-dependent manner. We show that microglia, the CNS macrophages, react to diverse LPS variants, including smooth (S) and rough (R) LPS chemotypes, with cytokine/chemokine induction, MHC I expression and suppression of myelin phagocytosis. The TLR4 co-receptor CD14 was shown in peritoneal macrophages to be essential for S-LPS effects and the link of both S- and R-LPS to TRIF signaling. In contrast, cd14(-/-) microglia readily respond to S- and R-LPS, suggesting an a priori high(er) sensitivity to both chemotypes, while CD14 confers increased S- and R-LPS potencies and compensates for their differences. Importantly, CD14 controls the magnitude and shapes the profile of cyto/chemokine production, this influence being itself regulated by critical LPS concentrations. Comparing reactive phenotypes of microglia with deficiencies in CD14, MyD88 and TRIF (cd14(-/-), myd88(-/-), and trif(lps2)), we found that distinct signaling routes organize for individual functions in either concerted or non-redundant fashion and that CD14 has contributions beyond the link to TRIF. Modulation of response profiles by key cytokines finally reveals that the microglial TLR4 can differentiate between the class of LPS structures and a self-derived agonist, fibronectin. It thus proves as a sophisticated decision maker in infectious and non-infectious CNS challenges.
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