Toll-like receptors (TLRs) are critical components in the regulation of pulmonary immune responses and the recognition of respiratory pathogens such as Mycobacterium Tuberculosis (M.tb). Through examination of human alveolar macrophages this study attempts to better define the expression profiles of TLR2, TLR4 and TLR9 in the human lung compartment which are as yet still poorly defined.
Sixteen healthy subjects underwent venipuncture, and eleven subjects underwent additional bronchoalveolar lavage to obtain peripheral blood mononuclear and bronchoalveolar cells, respectively. Surface and intracellular expression of TLRs was assessed by fluorescence-activated cell sorting and qRT-PCR. Cells were stimulated with TLR-specific ligands and cytokine production assessed by ELISA and cytokine bead array.
Surface expression of TLR2 was significantly lower on alveolar macrophages than on blood monocytes (1.2 ± 0.4% vs. 57 ± 11.1%, relative mean fluorescence intensity [rMFI]: 0.9 ± 0.1 vs. 3.2 ± 0.1, p < 0.05). The proportion of TLR4 and TLR9-expressing cells and the rMFIs of TLR4 were comparable between alveolar macrophages and monocytes. The surface expression of TLR9 however, was higher on alveolar macrophages than on monocytes (rMFI, 218.4 ± 187.3 vs. 4.4 ± 1.4, p < 0.05) while the intracellular expression of the receptor and the proportion of TLR9 positive cells were similar in both cell types. TLR2, TLR4 and TLR9 mRNA expression was lower in bronchoalveolar cells than in monocytes.
Pam3Cys, LPS, and M.tb DNA upregulated TLR2, TLR4 and TLR9 mRNA in both, bronchoalveolar cells and monocytes. Corresponding with the reduced surface and mRNA expression of TLR2, Pam3Cys induced lower production of TNF-α, IL-1β and IL-6 in bronchoalveolar cells than in monocytes. Despite comparable expression of TLR4 on both cell types, LPS induced higher levels of IL-10 in monocytes than in alveolar macrophages. M.tb DNA, the ligand for TLR9, induced similar levels of cytokines in both cell types.
The TLR expression profile of autologous human alveolar macrophages and monocytes is not identical, therefore perhaps contributing to compartmentalized immune responses in the lungs and systemically. These dissimilarities may have important implications for the design and efficacy evaluation of vaccines with TLR-stimulating adjuvants that target the respiratory tract.