Toll-like receptors in central nervous system injury and disease: a focus on the spinal cord

Brain Behav Immun. 2014 Nov;42:232-45. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2014.06.203. Epub 2014 Jul 22.


Toll-like receptors (TLRs) are best known for recognizing pathogens and initiating an innate immune response to protect the host. However, they also detect tissue damage and induce sterile inflammation upon the binding of endogenous ligands released by stressed or injured cells. In addition to immune system-related cells, TLRs have been identified in central nervous system (CNS) neurons and glial subtypes including microglia, astrocytes and oligodendrocytes. Direct and indirect effects of TLR ligands on neurons and glial subtypes have been documented in vitro. Likewise, the effects of TLR ligands have been demonstrated in vivo using animal models of CNS trauma and disease including spinal cord injury (SCI), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and neuropathic pain. The indirect effects are most likely mediated via microglia or immune system cells that infiltrate the diseased or injured CNS. Despite considerable progress over the past decade, the role of TLRs in the physiological and pathological function of the spinal cord remains inadequately defined. Published reports collectively highlight TLRs as promising targets for therapeutic interventions in spinal cord pathology. The findings also underscore the complexity of TLR-mediated mechanisms and the necessity for further research in this field. The goals of the current review are to recapitulate the studies that investigated the role of TLRs in the spinal cord, to discuss potential future research directions, and to examine some of the challenges associated with pre-clinical studies pertinent to TLRs in the injured or diseased spinal cord.

Keywords: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; Chemokine; Cytokine; Gliosis; Innate immunity; Motor neuron; Neuropathic pain; Neuroprotection; Regeneration; Spinal cord injury.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Spinal Cord / metabolism*
  • Spinal Cord / pathology
  • Spinal Cord Diseases / metabolism*
  • Spinal Cord Diseases / pathology
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / metabolism*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / pathology
  • Toll-Like Receptors / metabolism*


  • Toll-Like Receptors