Toll-like receptor 7 mediates early innate immune responses to malaria. Innate immune recognition of malaria parasites is the critical first step in the development of the host response. At present, Toll-like receptor 9 (TLR9) is thought to play a central role in sensing malaria infection. However, we and others have observed that Tlr9-/- mice, in contrast to mice deficient in the downstream adaptor, Myeloid differentiation primary response gene 88 (MYD88), exhibit few deficiencies in immune function during early infection with the malaria parasite Plasmodium chabaudi, implying that another MYD88-dependent receptor also contributes to the anti-malarial response. Here we use candidate-based screening to identify TLR7 as a key sensor of early P. chabaudi infection. We show that TLR7 mediates a rapid systemic response to infection through induction of cytokines such as type I interferons (T1IFN), interleukin 12, and interferon gamma. TLR7 is also required for induction of T1IFN by other species and strains of Plasmodium, including an etiological agent of human disease, P. falciparum, suggesting that malaria parasites harbor a common pathogen-associated molecular pattern (PAMP) recognized by TLR7. In contrast to the non-redundant requirement for TLR7 in early immune activation, sensing through both TLR7 and TLR9 were required for pro-inflammatory cytokine production and immune cell activation during the peak of parasitemia. Our findings indicate that TLR7 plays a central role in early immune activation during malaria infection, whereas TLR7 and TLR9 contribute combinatorially to immune responses as infection progresses.
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