The Toll-like receptors (TLRs) are membrane receptors whose extracellular domains can recognize conserved molecules released from invading microbes (e.g. LPS, CpG, etc). TLR binding alerts the host to the presence of potential pathogens and activates innate immunity. Inherited mutations in TLR signaling pathways can lead to immunodeficiency and immunopathology. TLRs signal cells by interacting with cytoplasmic adaptors that recruit downstream signaling molecules and lead to induction of proinflammatory cytokines and type I interferons. The current TLR paradigm asserts that all 13 mammalian TLRs, except TLR3, signal host cells via the adaptor MyD88, whereas TLR3 signals through a "MyD88-independent" pathway via the alternate adaptor TRIF. TLR4 can also signal via the MyD88-independent pathway and thus uniquely signals through both MyD88 and TRIF by alternate use of one of two different bridging adaptors: TIRAP/Mal to recruit MyD88 or TRAM to recruit TRIF. In recent studies of the immune response to the Gram-negative bacterium Francisella tularensis, we have uncovered a novel signaling pathway in vivo that requires TRAM but does not appear to involve the "MyD88-independent" TRIF signaling pathway. We have observed a similar pathway in a mouse model of Listeria monocytogenes infection. These results were surprising since TRAM's only known function has been to bridge TLR4 to TRIF in the classic MyD88-independent pathway. Importantly, TLR2, and not TLR4, is required for recognition and control of F. tularensis and L. monocytogenes infections in mice. Based on our preliminary studies, therefore, we propose that TRAM can link TLRs other than TLR4 (e.g. TLR2) to immune activation, and thus plays a broader role in TLR signaling than previously known. To test this hypothesis, we will 1) elucidate the mechanism(s) by which TRAM-dependent, TLR4- independent signaling regulates the host protective response in a mouse model of pulmonary tularemia, and 2) define the molecular components, intracellular location and downstream targets of the novel TRAM-dependent signaling pathway. Together, these studies will define a new role for an important TLR signaling molecule, shed new light on how TLR specificity is controlled, and expand the current TLR paradigm. The proposed studies are innovative because they will define a new role for a key TLR signaling molecule and modify the current TLR paradigm. They are significant because this pathway is a critical immune activation pathway in vivo, and its elucidation may provide new targets for therapeutic manipulation of TLR signaling and the pro-inflammatory.
A complete understanding is needed of the signaling pathways that control immune responses to microbial infections and that regulate the harmful inflammatory responses observed in chronic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and Lupus. The proposed studies will characterize a novel role for the TRAM signaling molecule, known for its role in immune responses to infections. The results will provide valuable information for the development of better therapeutics to enhance vaccines and to treat chronic inflammatory diseases.