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New insights into upper airway innate immunity

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Protecting the upper airway from microbial infection is an important function of the immune system. Proper detection of these pathogens is paramount for sinonasal epithelial cells to be able to prepare a defensive response. Toll-like receptors and, more recently, bitter taste receptors and sweet taste receptors have been implicated as sensors able to detect the presence of these pathogens and certain compounds that they secrete. Activation of these receptors also triggers innate immune responses to prevent or counteract infection, including mucociliary clearance and the production and secretion of antimicrobial compounds (e.g., defensins).


To provide an overview of the current knowledge of the role of innate immunity in the upper airway, the mechanisms by which it is carried out, and its clinical relevance.


A literature review of the existing knowledge of the role of innate immunity in the human sinonasal cavity was performed.


Clinical and basic science studies have shown that the physical epithelial cell barrier, mucociliary clearance, and antimicrobial compound secretion play pivotal innate immune roles in defending the sinonasal cavity from infection. Clinical findings have also linked dysfunction of these defense mechanisms with diseases, such as chronic rhinosinusitis and cystic fibrosis. Recent discoveries have elucidated the significance of bitter and sweet taste receptors in modulating immune responses in the upper airway.


Numerous innate immune mechanisms seem to work in a concerted fashion to keep the sinonasal cavity free of infection. Understanding sinonasal innate immune function and dysfunction in health and disease has important implications for patients with respiratory ailments, such as chronic rhinosinusitis and cystic fibrosis.
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Keywords: Cilia; T2R; TLR; defensin; innate immunity; sinusitis; taste receptor

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Otorhinolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

Publication date: 2016-09-01

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