Toll is a Drosophila gene essential for ontogenesis and anti-microbial resistance. Several orthologues of Toll have been identified and cloned in vertebrates, namely Toll-like receptors (TLRs). Human TLRs are a growing family of molecules involved in innate immunity. TLRs are characterized structurally by a cytoplasmic Toll/inter-leukin-1 receptor (TIR) domain and by extracellular leucine-rich repeats. TLRs characterized so far activate the MyD88/interleukin-l receptor-associated kinase (IRAK) signalling pathway. Genetic, gene-transfer and dominant-negative approaches have involved TLR family members (TLR2 and TLR4) in Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria recognition and signalling. Accumulating evidence suggests that TLR2 is also involved in signalling-receptor complexes that recognize components of yeast and mycobacteria. However, the definitive roles of other TLRs are still lacking. A systematic approach has been used to determine whether different human leucocyte populations selectively or specifically express TLR mRNA. Based on expression pattern, TLR can be classified as ubiquitous (TLR1), restricted (TLR2, TLR4 and TLR5) and specific (TLR3). Expression and regulation of distinct but overlapping ligand-recognition patterns may underlie the existence of a large, seemingly redundant TLR family. Alternatively, the expression of a TLR in a single cell type may indicate a specific role for this molecule in a restricted setting.

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