Intracellular Toll-like receptor 3 (TLR3), TLR7, and TLR9 localize in endosomes and recognize single-stranded RNA and nucleotides from viruses and bacteria. This interaction induces their conformational changes resulting in the production of proinflammatory cytokines and upregulation of cell surface molecules. TLR9 requires a proteolytic cleavage for its signaling. Here, we report that myeloid and plasmacytoid dendritic cells (DCs) deficient for the asparagine endopeptidase (AEP), a cysteine lysosomal protease, showed a decrease in the secretion of proinflammatory cytokines in response to TLR9 stimulation in vitro and in vivo. Upon stimulation, full-length TLR9 was cleaved into a 72 kDa fragment and this processing was strongly reduced in DCs lacking AEP. Processed TLR9 coeluted with the adaptor molecule MyD88 and AEP after size exclusion chromatography. When expressed in AEP-deficient DCs, the 72 kDa proteolytic fragment restored TLR9 signaling. Thus, our results identify an endocytic protease playing a critical role in TLR processing and signaling in DCs.
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