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This article is the author’s final published version in PLoS Biology, Volume 18, Issue 12, December 2020, Article number e3000982.

The published version is available at Copyright © Pawar et al.


Toll-like receptors (TLRs) play a crucial role in the innate immune response. Although endosomal TLR7 recognizes single-stranded RNAs, their endogenous RNA ligands have not been fully explored. Here, we report 5'-tRNA half molecules as abundant activators of TLR7. Mycobacterial infection and accompanying surface TLR activation up-regulate the expression of 5'-tRNA half molecules in human monocyte-derived macrophages (HMDMs). The abundant accumulation of 5'-tRNA halves also occur in HMDM-secreted extracellular vehicles (EVs); the abundance of EV-5'-tRNAHisGUG half molecules is >200-fold higher than that of the most abundant EV-microRNA (miRNA). Sequence identification of the 5'-tRNA halves using cP-RNA-seq revealed abundant and selective packaging of specific 5'-tRNA half species into EVs. The EV-5'-tRNAHisGUG half was experimentally demonstrated to be delivered into endosomes in recipient cells and to activate endosomal TLR7. Up-regulation of the 5'-tRNA half molecules was also observed in the plasma of patients infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis. These results unveil a novel tRNA-engaged pathway in the innate immune response and assign the role of "immune activators" to 5'-tRNA half molecules.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

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