High-dose ionizing radiation induces severe DNA damage in the epithelial stem cells in small intestinal crypts and causes gastrointestinal syndrome (GIS). Although the tumour suppressor p53 is a primary factor inducing death of crypt cells with DNA damage, its essential role in maintaining genome stability means inhibiting p53 to prevent GIS is not a viable strategy. Here we show that the innate immune receptor Toll-like receptor 3 (TLR3) is critical for the pathogenesis of GIS. Tlr3(-/-) mice show substantial resistance to GIS owing to significantly reduced radiation-induced crypt cell death. Despite showing reduced crypt cell death, p53-dependent crypt cell death is not impaired in Tlr3(-/-) mice. p53-dependent crypt cell death causes leakage of cellular RNA, which induces extensive cell death via TLR3. An inhibitor of TLR3-RNA binding ameliorates GIS by reducing crypt cell death. Thus, we propose blocking TLR3 activation as a novel approach to treat GIS.