In 2011, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to three immunologists: Bruce A. Beutler, Jules A. Hoffmann, and Ralph M. Steinman. While Steinman was honored for his work on dendritic cells and adaptive immunity, Beutler and Hoffman received the prize for their contributions to discoveries in innate immunity. In 1996, Hoffmann found the toll gene to be crucial for mounting antimicrobial responses in fruit flies, first implicating this developmental gene in immune signaling. Two years later, Beutler built on this observation by describing a Toll-like gene, tlr4, as the receptor for the bacterial product LPS, representing a crucial step in innate immune activation and protection from bacterial infections in mammals. These publications spearheaded research in innate immune sensing and sparked a huge interest regarding innate defense mechanisms in the following years and decades. Today, Beutler and Hoffmann's research has not only resulted in the discovery of the role of multiple TLRs in innate immunity but also in a much broader understanding of the molecular components of the innate immune system. In this review, we aim to collect the discoveries leading up to the publications of Beutler and Hoffmann, taking a close look at how early advances in both developmental biology and immunology converged into the research awarded with the Nobel Prize. We will also discuss how these discoveries influenced future research and highlight the importance they hold today.
Keywords: Drosophila; LPS; Nobel Prize; TIR domain; Toll-like receptors (TLRs); immunology; innate immune signaling; innate immunity.