Toll-like receptor 9 modulates macrophage antifungal effector function during innate recognition of Candida albicans and Saccharomyces cerevisiae

Infect Immun. 2011 Dec;79(12):4858-67. doi: 10.1128/IAI.05626-11. Epub 2011 Sep 26.


Phagocytic responses are critical for effective host defense against opportunistic fungal pathogens. Macrophages sample the phagosomal content and orchestrate the innate immune response. Toll-like receptor 9 (TLR9) recognizes unmethylated CpG DNA and is activated by fungal DNA. Here we demonstrate that specific triggering of TLR9 recruitment to the macrophage phagosomal membrane is a conserved feature of fungi of distinct phylogenetic origins, including Candida albicans, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Malassezia furfur, and Cryptococcus neoformans. The capacity to trigger phagosomal TLR9 recruitment was not affected by a loss of fungal viability or cell wall integrity. TLR9 deficiency has been linked to increased resistance to murine candidiasis and to restriction of fungal growth in vivo. Macrophages lacking TLR9 demonstrate a comparable capacity for phagocytosis and normal phagosomal maturation compared to wild-type macrophages. We now show that TLR9 deficiency increases macrophage tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) production in response to C. albicans and S. cerevisiae, independent of yeast viability. The increase in TNF-α production was reversible by functional complementation of the TLR9 gene, confirming that TLR9 was responsible for negative modulation of the cytokine response. Consistently, TLR9 deficiency enhanced the macrophage effector response by increasing macrophage nitric oxide production. Moreover, microbicidal activity against C. albicans and S. cerevisiae was more efficient in TLR9 knockout (TLR9KO) macrophages than in wild-type macrophages. In conclusion, our data demonstrate that TLR9 is compartmentalized selectively to fungal phagosomes and negatively modulates macrophage antifungal effector functions. Our data support a model in which orchestration of antifungal innate immunity involves a complex interplay of fungal ligand combinations, host cell machinery rearrangements, and TLR cooperation and antagonism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Candida albicans / immunology*
  • Cell Line
  • Gene Expression
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate
  • Macrophages / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Phagocytosis / physiology
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / immunology*
  • Toll-Like Receptor 9 / genetics
  • Toll-Like Receptor 9 / metabolism*


  • Toll-Like Receptor 9