Tolerance is a long-recognized property of macrophages that leads to an altered response to repeated or chronic exposure to endotoxin. The physiological role of tolerance is to limit the potential damage to host tissue that may otherwise result from prolonged production of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Tolerance is induced by all toll-like receptor (TLR) ligands tested to date, however, tolerance induced by the TLR4 ligand lipopolysaccharide (LPS) is by far the best studied. LPS tolerance involves a global transcriptional shift from a pro-inflammatory response toward one characterized by the expression of anti-inflammatory and pro-resolution factors. Although largely reversible, LPS-tolerance leads to a hybrid macrophage activation state that is pro-inflammatory in nature, but possesses distinct regulatory anti-inflammatory features. Remarkably, a comparative transcriptomic analysis of tolerance induced by different TLR ligands has not previously been reported. Here, we describe the transcriptomic profiles of mouse macrophages tolerized with ligands for TLR2, TLR3, TLR4 and TLR 9. While we identified TLR-specific transcriptional profiles in macrophages tolerized with each ligand, tolerance induced by TLR4 represented an archetype pattern, such that each gene tolerized by any of the TLRs tested was also found to be tolerized by TLR4. Pro-inflammatory cytokines are not universally suppressed in all tolerant cells, but distinct patterns of cytokine expression distinguished TLR-specific tolerance. Analysis of gene regulatory regions revealed specific DNA sequence motifs associated with distinct states of TLR tolerance, implicating previously identified as well as novel transcriptional regulators of tolerance in macrophages. These data provide a basis for the future exploitation of TLR-specific tolerant states to achieve therapeutic re-programming of the innate immune response.
Keywords: NF-κB; innate immune memory; macrophage; tolerance; toll-like receptor; transcriptome.