TLR4 (Toll-like receptor 4) is essential for sensing the endotoxin of Gram-negative bacteria. Mutations or deletion of the TLR4 gene in humans or mice have been associated with altered predisposition to or outcome of Gram-negative sepsis. In the present work, we studied the expression and regulation of the Tlr4 gene of mouse. In vivo, TLR4 levels were higher in macrophages compared with B, T or natural killer cells. High basal TLR4 promoter activity was observed in RAW 264.7, J774 and P388D1 macrophages transfected with a TLR4 promoter reporter vector. Analysis of truncated and mutated promoter constructs identified several positive [two Ets (E twenty-six) and one AP-1 (activator protein-1) sites] and negative (a GATA-like site and an octamer site) regulatory elements within 350 bp upstream of the transcriptional start site. The myeloid and B-cell-specific transcription factor PU.1 bound to the proximal Ets site. In contrast, none among PU.1, Ets-1, Ets-2 and Elk-1, but possibly one member of the ESE (epithelium-specific Ets) subfamily of Ets transcription factors, bound to the distal Ets site, which was indispensable for Tlr4 gene transcription. Endotoxin did not affect macrophage TLR4 promoter activity, but it decreased TLR4 steady-state mRNA levels by increasing the turnover of TLR4 transcripts. TLR4 expression was modestly altered by other pro- and anti-inflammatory stimuli, except for PMA plus ionomycin which strongly increased promoter activity and TLR4 mRNA levels. The mouse and human TLR4 genes were highly conserved. Yet, notable differences exist with respect to the elements implicated in gene regulation, which may account for species differences in terms of tissue expression and modulation by microbial and inflammatory stimuli.

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