One of the fundamental aspects of the innate immune system is its capacity to discriminate between self and non-self or altered self, and to quickly respond by eliciting effector mechanisms that act in concert to restore normalcy. This capacity is determined by a set of evolutionarily conserved pattern recognition receptors (PRRs) that sense the presence of microbial motifs or endogenous danger signals, including tissue damage, cellular transformation or metabolic perturbation, and orchestrate the nature, duration and intensity of the innate immune response. Nod-like receptors (NLRs), a group of intracellular PRRs, are particularly essential as evident by the high incidence of genetic variations in their genes in various diseases of homeostasis. Here, I overview the signaling mechanisms of NLRs and discuss the mounting evidence of evolutionary conservation between their pathways and the cell death machinery. I also describe their effector functions that link the sensing of danger to the induction of inflammation, autophagy or cell death.
© 2011 John Wiley & Sons A/S.