Toll-like receptors (TLRs) have been widely investigated due to their importance in the inflammatory response and possible links to tumor promotion/regression and prognosis. In cancers with an infective etiology, such as human papillomavirus (HPV)- associated Oropharyngeal Squamous Cell Carcinoma (OPSCC), TLR responses may be activated and play a role in tumorigenesis. Our aim was to assess the expression of all TLRs in OPSCC cell lines (both HPV+ and HPV-) by qPCR, Western Blot and flow cytometry and assess their response to TLR ligands lipopolysaccharide (LPS), LPS ultra-pure (LPS-UP) and peptidoglycan (PGN) by analyzing IL-8 and IL-6 production. We also immunostained 61 OPSCC tissue samples with anti-TLR4. Results showed lower TLR1 and TLR6 mRNA expression and higher TLR9 protein expression in HPV+ when compared to HPV-OPSCC cells. TLR4 expression did not vary by HPV status in OPSCC cells, but TLR4 expression was significantly lower in HPV+OPSCC tissues. After stimulation with PGN, only one cell line (HPV+) did not secrete IL-6 or IL-8. Furthermore, HPV+OPSCC lines showed no IL-6 or IL-8 production on treatment with LPS/LPS-UP. The data suggest changes in TLR4 signaling in HPV+OPSCC, since we have shown lower tissue expression of TLR4 and no pro-inflammatory response after stimulation with LPS and LPS-UP. Also, it suggests that OPSCC may respond to HPV infection by increased expression of TLR9. This study demonstrates differences in expression and function of TLRs in OPSCC, which are dependent on HPV status, and may indicate subversion of the innate immune response by HPV infection.
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