Detection of Microbial Infections Through Innate Immune Sensing of Nucleic Acids

Xiaojun Tan, Lijun Sun, Jueqi Chen, Zhijian J. Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

277 Scopus citations


Microbial infections are recognized by the innate immune system through germline-encoded pattern recognition receptors (PRRs). As most microbial pathogens contain DNA and/or RNA during their life cycle, nucleic acid sensing has evolved as an essential strategy for host innate immune defense. Pathogen-derived nucleic acids with distinct features are recognized by specific host PRRs localized in endolysosomes and the cytosol. Activation of these PRRs triggers signaling cascades that culminate in the production of type I interferons and proinflammatory cytokines, leading to induction of an antimicrobial state, activation of adaptive immunity, and eventual clearance of the infection. Here, we review recent progress in innate immune recognition of nucleic acids upon microbial infection, including pathways involving endosomal Toll-like receptors, cytosolic RNA sensors, and cytosolic DNA sensors. We also discuss the mechanisms by which infectious microbes counteract host nucleic acid sensing to evade immune surveillance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)447-478
Number of pages32
JournalAnnual Review of Microbiology
StatePublished - Sep 8 2018


  • IRF3
  • MAVS
  • MDA5
  • NF-κB
  • RIG-I
  • TLR
  • cGAMP
  • cGAS
  • interferon

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology


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