Neisseria meningitidis is a leading cause of meningitis and sepsis. The pathogenesis of meningococcal disease is determined by both bacterial virulence factors and the host inflammatory response. Toll-like receptors (TLRs) are prominent activators of the inflammatory response, and TLR2, -4, and -9 have been reported to be involved in the host response to N. meningitidis. While TLR4 has been suggested to play an important role in early containment of infection, the roles of TLR2 and TLR9 in meningococcal disease are not well described. Using a model for meningococcal sepsis, we report that TLR9(-/-) mice displayed reduced survival and elevated levels of bacteremia compared to wild-type mice. In contrast, TLR2(-/-) mice controlled the infection in a manner comparable to that of wild-type mice. TLR9 deficiency was also associated with reduced bactericidal activity in vitro, which was accompanied by reduced production of nitric oxide by TLR9-deficient macrophages. Interestingly, TLR9(-/-) mice recruited more macrophages to the bloodstream than wild-type mice and produced elevated levels of cytokines at late time points during infection. At the cellular level, activation of signal transduction and induction of cytokine gene expression were independent of TLR2 or TLR9 in macrophages and conventional dendritic cells. In contrast, plasmacytoid dendritic cells relied entirely on TLR9 to induce these activities. Thus, our data demonstrate an important role for TLR9 in host defense against N. meningitidis.
Infection and Immunity, 2008, Vol 76, p. 5421-5428