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BACKGROUND: Toll-like receptors (TLRs) have long been considered to be major culprits in the development of atherosclerosis, contributing both to its progression and clinical complications. However, evidence for most TLRs beyond TLR2 and TLR4 is lacking. METHODS AND RESULTS: We used experimental mouse models, human atheroma cultures, and well-established human biobanks to investigate the role of TLR7 in atherosclerosis. We report the unexpected finding that TLR7, a receptor recognizing self-nucleic acid complexes, is protective in atherosclerosis. In Apoe(-/-) mice, functional inactivation of TLR7 resulted in accelerated lesion development, increased stenosis, and enhanced plaque vulnerability as revealed by Doppler ultrasound and/or histopathology. Mechanistically, TLR7 interfered with macrophage proinflammatory responses to TLR2 and TLR4 ligands, reduced monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 production, and prevented expansion of Ly6C(hi) inflammatory monocytes and accumulation of inflammatory M1 macrophages into developing atherosclerotic lesions. In human carotid endarterectomy specimens TLR7 levels were consistently associated with an M2 anti-inflammatory macrophage signature (interleukin [IL]-10, IL-1RA, CD163, scavenger and C-type lectin receptors) and collagen genes, whereas they were inversely related or unrelated to proinflammatory mediators (IL-12/IL-23, interferon beta, interferon gamma, CD40L) and platelet markers. Moreover, in human atheroma cultures, TLR7 activation selectively suppressed the production of key proatherogenic factors such as monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 and tumor necrosis factor without affecting IL-10. CONCLUSIONS: These findings provide evidence for a beneficial role of TLR7 in atherosclerosis by constraining inflammatory macrophage activation and cytokine production. This challenges the prevailing concept that all TLRs are pathogenic and supports the exploitation of the TLR7 pathway for therapy.

Original publication

DOI

10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.111.067678

Type

Journal article

Journal

Circulation

Publication Date

21/08/2012

Volume

126

Pages

952 - 962

Keywords

Animals, Aorta, Apolipoproteins E, Biomarkers, Carotid Artery Diseases, Cells, Cultured, Cytokines, Disease Models, Animal, Female, Humans, Macrophages, Peritoneal, Male, Membrane Glycoproteins, Mice, Mice, Inbred C57BL, Mice, Knockout, Monocytes, Plaque, Atherosclerotic, RNA, Messenger, Toll-Like Receptor 7