Toll-like receptor 2 stimulation augments esophageal barrier integrity

Allergy. 2019 Dec;74(12):2449-2460. doi: 10.1111/all.13968. Epub 2019 Jul 25.


Background: Germline-encoded innate immune pattern recognition receptors (PRR) are expressed at epithelial surfaces and modulate epithelial defenses. Evidence suggests that stimulation of the Toll-like receptor (TLR) family of PRR may regulate epithelial barrier integrity by upregulating tight junction (TJ) complex protein expression, but it is not known whether this mechanism is utilized in esophageal epithelial cells. TJ complex proteins maintain intact barrier function and are dysregulated in atopic disorders including eosinophilic esophagitis.

Methods: Pattern recognition receptors expression was assessed in EoE and control primary esophageal epithelial cells, demonstrating robust expression of TLR2 and TLR3. The three-dimensional air-liquid interface culture (ALI) model was used to test whether TLR2 or TLR3 stimulation alters epithelial barrier function using an in vitro model of human epithelium. Transepithelial electrical resistance (TEER) and FITC-Dextran permeability were evaluated to assess membrane permeability. ALI cultures were evaluated by histology, immunohistochemistry, Western blotting, and chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP).

Results: TLR3 stimulation did not change TEER in the ALI model. TLR2 stimulation increased TEER (1.28- to 1.31-fold) and decreased paracellular permeability to FITC-Dextran, and this effect was abolished by treatment with anti-TLR2 blocking antibody. TJ complex proteins claudin-1 and zonula occludens-1 were upregulated following TLR2 stimulation, and ChIP assay demonstrated altered histone 4 acetyl binding at the TJP1 enhancer and CLDN1 enhancer and promoter following zymosan treatment, implying the occurrence of durable chromatin changes.

Conclusions: Our findings implicate the TLR2 pathway as a potential regulator of esophageal epithelial barrier function and suggest that downstream chromatin modifications are associated with this effect.

Keywords: eosinophilic esophagitis; epithelium; innate immunity; tight junctions; toll-like receptors.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cells, Cultured
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism
  • Esophageal Mucosa / metabolism*
  • Esophageal Mucosa / pathology
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Immunophenotyping
  • Receptors, Pattern Recognition / metabolism
  • Tight Junctions
  • Toll-Like Receptor 2 / agonists*
  • Toll-Like Receptors / metabolism


  • Histones
  • Receptors, Pattern Recognition
  • TLR2 protein, human
  • Toll-Like Receptor 2
  • Toll-Like Receptors