Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

BACKGROUND: Toll-like receptors (TLRs) have long been considered to be major culprits in the development of atherosclerosis, contributing both to its progression and clinical complications. However, evidence for most TLRs beyond TLR2 and TLR4 is lacking. METHODS AND RESULTS: We used experimental mouse models, human atheroma cultures, and well-established human biobanks to investigate the role of TLR7 in atherosclerosis. We report the unexpected finding that TLR7, a receptor recognizing self-nucleic acid complexes, is protective in atherosclerosis. In Apoe(-/-) mice, functional inactivation of TLR7 resulted in accelerated lesion development, increased stenosis, and enhanced plaque vulnerability as revealed by Doppler ultrasound and/or histopathology. Mechanistically, TLR7 interfered with macrophage proinflammatory responses to TLR2 and TLR4 ligands, reduced monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 production, and prevented expansion of Ly6C(hi) inflammatory monocytes and accumulation of inflammatory M1 macrophages into developing atherosclerotic lesions. In human carotid endarterectomy specimens TLR7 levels were consistently associated with an M2 anti-inflammatory macrophage signature (interleukin [IL]-10, IL-1RA, CD163, scavenger and C-type lectin receptors) and collagen genes, whereas they were inversely related or unrelated to proinflammatory mediators (IL-12/IL-23, interferon beta, interferon gamma, CD40L) and platelet markers. Moreover, in human atheroma cultures, TLR7 activation selectively suppressed the production of key proatherogenic factors such as monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 and tumor necrosis factor without affecting IL-10. CONCLUSIONS: These findings provide evidence for a beneficial role of TLR7 in atherosclerosis by constraining inflammatory macrophage activation and cytokine production. This challenges the prevailing concept that all TLRs are pathogenic and supports the exploitation of the TLR7 pathway for therapy.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





952 - 962


Animals, Aorta, Apolipoproteins E, Biomarkers, Carotid Artery Diseases, Cells, Cultured, Cytokines, Disease Models, Animal, Female, Humans, Macrophages, Peritoneal, Male, Membrane Glycoproteins, Mice, Mice, Inbred C57BL, Mice, Knockout, Monocytes, Plaque, Atherosclerotic, RNA, Messenger, Toll-Like Receptor 7