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Keywords:

  • imiquimod;
  • immunomodulation;
  • interleukin-1;
  • NF-κB;
  • Toll-like receptor

Abstract:  The innate immune system governs the interconnecting pathways of microbial recognition, inflammation, microbial clearance, and cell death. A family of evolutionarily conserved receptors, known as the Toll-like receptors (TLRs), is crucial in early host defense against invading pathogens. Upon TLR stimulation, nuclear factor-κB activation and the interferon (IFN)-regulatory factor 3 pathway initiate production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, such as interleukin-1 and tumor necrosis factor-α, and production of type I IFNs (IFN-α and IFN-β), respectively. The innate immunity thereby offers diverse targets for highly selective therapeutics, such as small molecular synthetic compounds that modify innate immune responses. The notion that activation of the innate immune system is a prerequisite for the induction of acquired immunity raised interest in these immune response modifiers as potential therapeutics for viral infections and various tumors. A scenario of dermal events following skin cancer treatment with imiquimod presumably comprises (i) an initial low amount of pro-inflammatory cytokine secretion by macrophages and dermal dendritic cells (DCs), thereby (ii) attracting an increasing number type I IFN-producing plasmacytoid DCs (pDCs) from the blood; (iii) Langerhans cells migrate into draining lymph nodes, leading to an increased presentation of tumor antigen in the draining lymph node, and (iv) consequently an increased generation of tumor-specific T cells and finally (v) an accumulation of tumoricidal effector cells in the treated skin area. The induction of predominately T helper (Th)1-type cytokine profiles by TLR agonists such as imiquimod might have further benefits by shifting the dominant Th2-type response in atopic diseases such as asthma and atopic dermatitis to a more potent Th1 response.