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Toll-like receptors (TLR) are essential for the innate immune response against invading pathogens and have been described in immunocompetent cells of areas affected by periapical disease. Besides initiating the inflammatory response, they also directly regulate epithelial cell proliferation and survival in a variety of settings. This study evaluates the in situ expression of TLR4 in periapical granulomas (PG) and radicular cysts, focusing on the epithelial compartment. Twenty-one periapical cysts (PC) and 10 PG were analyzed; 7 dentigerous non-inflamed follicular cyst (DC) served as control. TLR4 expression was assessed by immunohistochemistry. TLR4 immunoreaction products were detected in the epithelium of all specimens, with a higher percentage of immunostained cells in PG. Although TLR4 overexpression was detected in both PG and PC, there were differences that seemed to be related to the nature of the lesion, since in PG all epithelial cells of strands, islands and trabeculae were strongly immunoreactive for TLR4, whereas in PC only some areas of the basal and suprabasal epithelial layers were immunostained. This staining pattern is consistent with the action of TLR4: in PG it could promote formation of epithelial cell rests of Malassez and in epithelial strands and islands the enhancement of cell survival, proliferation and migration, whereas in PC TLR4 could protect the lining epithelium from extensive apoptosis. These findings go some way towards answering the intriguing question of why many epithelial strands or islands in PG and the lining epithelium of apical cysts regress after non-surgical endodontic therapy, and suggest that TLR4 plays a key role in the pathobiology of the inflammatory process related to periapical disease.
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