Expression and activation of toll-like receptor 3 and toll-like receptor 4 on human corneal epithelial and conjunctival fibroblasts

Nir Erdinest, Gal Aviel, Eli Moallem, Irene Anteby, Claudia Yahalom, Hadas Mechoulam, Haim Ovadia, Abraham Solomon*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Background: Toll-like receptors (TLRs) are recognized as important contributors to the initiation and modulation of the inflammatory response in the eye. This study investigated the precise expression patterns and functionality of TLRs in human corneal epithelial cells (HCE) and in conjunctival fibroblasts (HCF). Methods. The cell surface expression of TLRs 2-4, TLR7 and TLR9 in HCE and HCF was examined by flow cytometry with or without stimulation with lipopolysaccharide (LPS) or polyinosinic:polycytidylic acid (poly I:C). The mRNA expression of the TLRs was determined by real-time PCR. The protein content levels of interleukin (IL)-6, IL-8, IL-1β and tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) were measured in HCE and HCF using multiplex fluorescent bead immunoassay (FBI). Results: The surface expression of TLR3 and TLR4 was detected on both HCE and HCF. Following incubation with LPS, the percentage of HCE cells staining for TLR4 decreased from 10.18% to 0.62% (P < 0.001). Incubation with poly I:C lowered the percentage of HCE cells positive for TLR3 from 10.44% to 2.84% (P < 0.001). The mRNA expression of TLRs2, 4, 7 and 9 was detected in HCE only. Activation of HCE with LPS complex elicited protein secretion up to 4.51 ± 0.85-fold higher levels of IL-6 (P < 0.05), 2.5 ± 0.36-fold IL-8 (P > 0.05), 4.35 ± 1.12-fold IL-1β (P > 0.05) and 29.35 ± 2.3-fold TNFα (P < 0.05) compared to cells incubated in medium. Conclusions: HCF and HCE both express TLRs that respond to specific ligands by increasing cytokine expression. Following activation, the surface expression of TLR3 and TLR4 on HCE is decreased, thus creating a negative feedback loop, mitigating the effect of TLR activation.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number3
JournalJournal of Inflammation
Issue number1
StatePublished - 4 Feb 2014
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
NE is grateful to the Azrieli Foundation for the award of an Azrieli Fellowship.


  • Conjunctival fibroblasts
  • Corneal epithelial
  • Culture cells
  • Lipopolysaccharide
  • Polyinosinic:polycytidylic acid
  • Toll-like receptor


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