Role of astroglial toll-like receptors (TLRs) in central nervous system infections, injury and neurodegenerative diseases

Lun Li, Cigdem Acioglu, Robert F. Heary, Stella Elkabes

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

110 Scopus citations


Central nervous system (CNS) innate immunity plays essential roles in infections, neurodegenerative diseases, and brain or spinal cord injuries. Astrocytes and microglia are the principal cells that mediate innate immunity in the CNS. Pattern recognition receptors (PRRs), expressed by astrocytes and microglia, sense pathogen-derived or endogenous ligands released by damaged cells and initiate the innate immune response. Toll-like receptors (TLRs) are a well-characterized family of PRRs. The contribution of microglial TLR signaling to CNS pathology has been extensively investigated. Even though astrocytes assume a wide variety of key functions, information about the role of astroglial TLRs in CNS disease and injuries is limited. Because astrocytes display heterogeneity and exhibit phenotypic plasticity depending on the effectors present in the local milieu, they can exert both detrimental and beneficial effects. TLRs are modulators of these paradoxical astroglial properties. The goal of the current review is to highlight the essential roles played by astroglial TLRs in CNS infections, injuries and diseases. We discuss the contribution of astroglial TLRs to host defense as well as the dissemination of viral and bacterial infections in the CNS. We examine the link between astroglial TLRs and the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative diseases and present evidence showing the pivotal influence of astroglial TLR signaling on sterile inflammation in CNS injury. Finally, we define the research questions and areas that warrant further investigations in the context of astrocytes, TLRs, and CNS dysfunction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)740-755
Number of pages16
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity
StatePublished - Jan 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Immunology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  • Astrogliosis
  • Brain injury
  • COVID-19
  • Cytokines
  • Infection
  • Neuroinflammation
  • Neuroprotection
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Pattern recognition receptors
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Spinal cord injury


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