Neisseriae internalization by epithelial cells is enhanced by TLR2 stimulation.
The human airway epithelium is constantly exposed to microbial products from colonizing organisms. Regulation of Toll-like receptor (TLR) expression and specific interactions with bacterial ligands is thought to mitigate exacerbation of inflammatory processes induced by the commensal flora in these cells. The genus Neisseria comprises pathogenic and commensal organisms that colonize the human nasopharynx. Neisseria lactamica is not associated with disease, but N. meningitidis occasionally invades the host, causing meningococcal disease and septicemia. Upon colonization of the airway epithelium, specific host cell receptors interact with numerous Neisseria components, including the PorB porin, at the immediate bacterial-host cell interface. This major outer membrane protein is expressed by all Neisseria strains, regardless of pathogenicity, but its amino acid sequence varies among strains, particularly in the surface-exposed regions. The interaction of Neisseria PorB with TLR2 is essential for driving TLR2/TLR1-dependent cellular responses and is thought to occur via the porin's surface-exposed loop regions. Our studies show that N. lactamica PorB is a TLR2 ligand but its binding specificity for TLR2 is different from that of meningococcal PorB. Furthermore, N. lactamica PorB is a poor inducer of proinflammatory mediators and of TLR2 expression in human airway epithelial cells. These effects are reproduced by whole N. lactamica organisms. Since the responsiveness of human airway epithelial cells to colonizing bacteria is in part regulated via TLR2 expression and signaling, commensal organisms such as N. lactamica would benefit from expressing a product that induces low TLR2-dependent local inflammation, likely delaying or avoiding clearance by the host.