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Phylogenetic variation and polymorphism at the Toll-like receptor 4 locus (TLR4)

Irina Smirnova1, Alexander Poltorak1, Edward KL Chan2, Colleen McBride1 and Bruce Beutler1*

Author Affiliations

1 The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, 5323 Harry Hines Boulevard, Dallas, Texas 75235-9050, USA

2 The Scripps Research Institute, Department of Molecular and Experimental Medicine, 10550 N Torrey Pines road, La Jolla, California 92037, USA

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Genome Biology 2000, 1:research002-research002.10  doi:10.1186/gb-2000-1-1-research002

Published: 27 April 2000



Differences in responses to bacterial surface lipopolysaccharides (LPSs) are apparent between and within mammalian species. It has been shown in mice that resistance to LPS is caused by defects in the Toll-like receptor 4 gene (Tlr4), the product of which is thought to bind LPS and mediate LPS signal transduction in immune system cells.


We have sequenced the Toll-like receptor 4 gene of humans (TLR4; 19.0 kilobases, kb) and mice (Tlr4; 91.7 kb), as well as the coding region and splice junctions of Tlr4 from 35 mouse (Mus musculus) strains, from the chimpanzee and from the baboon. No other discernible genes or regions of interspecies conservation lies close to Tlr4 and, in both humans and mice, flanking sequences and introns are rich in repeats of retroviral origin. Interstrain analyses reveal that Tlr4 is a polymorphic protein and that the extracellular domain is far more variable than the cytoplasmic domain, both among strains and among species. The cytoplasmic domain of the Tlr4 protein is highly variable at the carboxy-terminal end.


We suggest that selective evolutionary pressure exerted by microbes expressing structurally distinguishable LPS molecules has produced the high level of variability in the Tlr4 extracellular domain. The highly variable carboxy-terminal region of the cytoplasmic domain is likely to determine the magnitude of the response to LPS within a species.