Background: Early detection of microorganisms by the innate immune system is provided by surface-expressed and endosomal pattern recognition receptors (PRRs) such as Toll-like receptors (TLRs). Detection of microbial components by TLRs initiates a signaling cascade leading to the expression of proinflammatory cytokines including IL-6 and IL-1β. Some intracellular bacteria subvert the TLR response by rapidly escaping the phagosome and entering the cytosol. However, these bacteria may be recognized by the inflammasome, a multi-protein complex comprised of a sensor protein, ASC and the cysteine protease caspase-1. Inflammasome activation leads to release of the proinflammatory cytokines IL-1β and IL-18 and death of the infected cell, an important host defense that eliminates the pathogen's replicative niche. While TLRs and inflammasomes are critical for controlling bacterial infections, it is unknown whether these distinct host pathways cooperate to activate defenses against intracellular bacteria.
Methodology/significant findings: Using the intracellular bacterium Francisella novicida as a model, we show that TLR2(-/-) macrophages exhibited delayed inflammasome activation compared to wild-type macrophages as measured by inflammasome assembly, caspase-1 activation, cell death and IL-18 release. TLR2 also contributed to inflammasome activation in response to infection by the cytosolic bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. Components of the TLR2 signaling pathway, MyD88 and NF-κB, were required for rapid inflammasome activation. Furthermore, TLR2(-/-) mice exhibited lower levels of cell death, caspase-1 activation, and IL-18 production than wild-type mice upon F. novicida infection.
Conclusions/significance: These results show that TLR2 is required for rapid inflammasome activation in response to infection by cytosolic bacterial pathogens. In addition to further characterizing the role of TLR2 in host defense, these findings broaden our understanding of how the host integrates signals from spatiotemporally separated PRRs to coordinate an innate response against intracellular bacteria.