Toll like receptors (TLRs) are a family of pattern recognition receptors that play a central role in pathogen recognition and shaping the innate immune response. While most of the studies of the role of TLRs have focused on mature immune cell populations, recent reports suggest that TLR signaling may regulate the immune response from the level of the hematopoietic stem cell (HSC). In this study, we sought to further elucidate the effects of systemic TLR ligand exposure on HSCs and determine the cell-intrinsic versus extrinsic effects of such exposure. We specifically focused on TLR2 signaling, as although TLR2 is expressed on HSCs, it’s role in their regulation is not clear. Furthermore, enhanced TLR2 signaling is associated with myelodysplastic syndrome (Wei et al, Leukemia 2013), suggesting that aberrant signaling through this receptor may have clinically significant effects on HSC function.

To elucidate the role of TLR2 signaling in regulating HSCs, we used mice with genetic loss of TLR2, as well as a synthetic agonist of TLR2 (PAM3CSK4) to determine the effects of TLR2 signaling loss or gain, respectively, on HSC cycling, mobilization and function. While TLR2 expression is not required for normal HSC function, treatment of wild-type mice with PAM3CSK4 leads to expansion of HSCs in the bone marrow and spleen, increased HSC cycling, and loss of HSC function in competitive bone marrow transplantation experiments. As TLR2 is expressed on a variety of stromal and hematopoietic cell types, we used bone marrow chimeras (Tlr2-/- + Tlr2+/+ marrow transplanted into Tlr2+/+ recipients) to determine if the effects of PAM3CSK4 treatment are cell intrinsic or extrinsic. The data suggests that HSC cycling and expansion in the marrow and spleen upon PAM3CSK4 treatment are extrinsic (occurring in both transplanted HSC populations), and are associated with increased serum levels of G-CSF. Indeed, inhibition of G-CSF using either a neutralizing antibody or mice lacking the G-CSF receptor (Csf3r-/-) leads to even further enhanced HSC bone marrow expansion upon G-CSF treatment but significantly reduced numbers of spleen HSCs compared to similarly treated wild-type mice. This suggests mobilization in response to TLR2 signaling is an indirect, G-CSF-mediated process. Ongoing studies are aimed at determining the contribution of G-CSF to the PAM3CSK4- induced loss of HSC function, and determining the source (stromal vs hematopoietic) of G-CSF production upon PAM3CSK4 exposure. Collectively, this data suggest that TLR2 signaling affects HSCs in a largely extrinsic fashion, with G-CSF playing a major role in regulating the effects of TLR2 ligand exposure on HSCs.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.