The human gastrointestinal tract is colonized by trillions of microorganisms that interact with the host to maintain structural and functional homeostasis. Acting as the interface between the site of the highest microbial burden in the human body and the richest immune compartment, a single layer of intestinal epithelial cells specializes in nutrient absorption, stratifies microorganisms to limit colonization of tissues and shapes the responses of the subepithelial immune cells. In this Review, we focus on the expression, regulation and functions of Toll-like receptors (TLRs) in the different intestinal epithelial lineages to analyse how epithelial recognition of bacteria participates in establishing homeostasis in the gut. In particular, we elaborate on the involvement of epithelial TLR signalling in controlling crypt dynamics, enhancing epithelial barrier integrity and promoting immune tolerance towards the gut microbiota. Furthermore, we comment on the regulatory mechanisms that fine-tune TLR-driven immune responses towards pathogens and revisit the role of TLRs in epithelial repair after injury. Finally, we discuss how dysregulation of epithelial TLRs can lead to the generation of dysbiosis, thereby increasing susceptibility to colitis and tumorigenesis.
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