Toll-like receptors (TLRs) are a family of pattern recognition receptors that recognize distinct molecular patterns shared by a broad range of pathogens, including nucleic acids. TLR9, for example, recognizes unmethylated deoxycytidyl-phosphate-deoxyguanosine (CpG) dinucleotides that are common in bacterial and some viral nucleic acids, whereas TLR3 recognizes double-stranded RNA and TLR7/TLR8 recognize single-stranded RNA, which would be found during viral replication. We were interested in whether TLR3, TLR9, and the related TLR9 family members TLR7/TLR8 might play a role in antiviral immune defense at the mucosal epithelial surface of the lower female reproductive tract. We studied cervical epithelial cells and found that they expressed mRNA for TLR3, TLR9, and TLR7, but had only a weak signal for TLR8. For TLR3 and TLR9, protein expression was confirmed to be intracellular. When epithelial cells were incubated with polyinosine-polycytidylic acid and CpG oligodinucleotides, we observed dose-dependent upregulation of interleukin-8 secretion. However, cells failed to respond to a variety of TLR7/TLR8 ligands. Polyinosine-polycytidylic acid also induced production of interferon-beta and chemokine C-C motif ligand 5, whereas CpG DNA did not. Cell activation by synthetic oligodinucleotides occurred only in response to the B class sequences, and required the presence of human-specific CpG motifs. In addition, responses to CpG oligodinucleotides could be inhibited by chloroquine, demonstrating the requirement for endosomal maturation. These data demonstrate that mucosal epithelial cells express functional TLR3 and TLR9, and suggest that these receptors play a role in regulating the proinflammatory cytokine and antiviral environment of the lower female reproductive tract during infection with viral and bacterial pathogens.
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