Toll-like receptor 2 promiscuity is responsible for the immunostimulatory activity of nucleic acid nanocarriers
DiC14-amidine is a cationic lipid that was originally designed as a lipid nanocarrier for nucleic acid transport, and turned out to be a Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4) agonist as well. We found that while E. coli lipopolysaccharide (LPS) is a TLR4 agonist in all species, diC14-amidine nanoliposomes are full agonists for human, mouse and cat receptors but weak horse agonists. Taking advantage of this unusual species specificity, we used chimeric constructs based on the human and horse sequences and identified two regions in the human TLR4 that modulate the agonist activity of diC14-amidine. Interestingly, these regions lie outside the known LPS-binding domain. Competition experiments also support our hypothesis that diC14-amidine interacts primarily with TLR4 hydrophobic crevices located at the edges of the TLR4/TLR4* dimerization interface. We have characterized potential binding modes using molecular docking analysis and suggest that diC14-amidine nanoliposomes activate TLR4 by facilitating its dimerization in a process that is myeloid differentiation 2 (MD-2)-dependent and cluster of differentiation 14 (CD14)-independent. Our data suggest that TLR4 may be activated through binding at different anchoring points, expanding the repertoire of TLR4 ligands to non-MD-2-binding lipids.