Roles of toll-like receptors in cancer: a double-edged sword for defense and offense

Arch Pharm Res. 2012 Aug;35(8):1297-316. doi: 10.1007/s12272-012-0802-7. Epub 2012 Sep 1.


Toll-like receptors (TLRs) belong to a class of pattern-recognition receptors that play an important role in host defense against pathogens by recognizing a wide variety of pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs). Besides driving inflammatory responses, TLRs also regulate cell proliferation and survival by expanding useful immune cells and integrating inflammatory responses and tissue repair processes. TLR signaling, which is centrally involved in the initiation of both innate and adaptive immune responses, has been thought to be restricted to immune cells. However, recent studies have shown that functional TLRs are expressed not only on immune cells, but also on cancer cells, thus implicating a role of TLRs in tumor biology. Increasing bodies of evidence have suggested that TLRs act as a double-edged sword in cancer cells because uncontrolled TLR signaling provides a microenvironment that is necessary for tumor cells to proliferate and evade the immune response. Alternatively, TLRs can induce an antitumor immune response in order to inhibit tumor progression. In this review, we summarize the dual roles of TLRs in tumor cells and, more importantly, delve into the therapeutic potential of TLRs in the context of tumorigenesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Disease Progression
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Signal Transduction*
  • Toll-Like Receptors / metabolism*
  • Tumor Microenvironment


  • Toll-Like Receptors