Flagellin, the protein unit of the bacterial flagellum, stimulates the innate immune receptor Toll-like receptor (TLR)5 following pattern recognition, or evades TLR5 through lack of recognition. This binary response fails to explain the weak agonism of flagellins from commensal bacteria, raising the question of how TLR5 response is tuned. Here, we describe a novel class of flagellin-TLR5 interaction, termed silent recognition. Silent flagellins are weak agonists despite high affinity binding to TLR5. This dynamic response is tuned by TLR5-flagellin interaction distal to the site of pattern recognition. Silent flagellins are produced primarily by the abundant gut bacteria Lachnospiraceae and are enriched in non-Western populations. These findings provide a mechanism for the innate immune system to tolerate commensal-derived flagellins.
TLR5 sensitively recognizes, but responds weakly to, flagellins from gut commensal bacteria.