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Summary

Bacillus anthracis is a Gram-positive bacillus that is the causative agent of anthrax. The virulence of the bacillus is partly due to the production of a tripartite virulence factor: protective antigen (PA), lethal factor (LF) and edema factor (EF). Recognition of the bacillus and its toxins by the innate immune system is likely to play a key role following infection. In this study we set out to investigate whether anthrax cell wall (ACW) components as well as the lethal toxin are sensed by Toll-like receptors (TLRs). Our data suggest that ACW components as well as PA are sensed by TLR2/6 heterodimers triggering an inflammatory response. This recognition takes place on the cell surface within specialized microdomains for ACW, whereas PA seems to trigger responses intracellularly. Interestingly, LF does not trigger a pro-inflammatory response, and when combined with PA, the complex is not sensed by the innate immune system. Overall our data suggest that TLR2/6 heterodimers are responsible for sensing the ACW and PA, whereas the formation of the subsequent toxin (LF + PA) seems to evade detection by the innate immune system contributing to the virulence of the toxin.