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This article is the author's final published version in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Volume 121, Issue 19, May 2024, Pages e2319569121.

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Copyright © 2024 the Author(s).


Toll-like receptors (TLRs) are crucial components of the innate immune system. Endosomal TLR7 recognizes single-stranded RNAs, yet its endogenous ssRNA ligands are not fully understood. We previously showed that extracellular (ex-) 5'-half molecules of tRNAHisGUG (the 5'-tRNAHisGUG half) in extracellular vesicles (EVs) of human macrophages activate TLR7 when delivered into endosomes of recipient macrophages. Here, we fully explored immunostimulatory ex-5'-tRNA half molecules and identified the 5'-tRNAValCAC/AAC half, the most abundant tRNA-derived RNA in macrophage EVs, as another 5'-tRNA half molecule with strong TLR7 activation capacity. Levels of the ex-5'-tRNAValCAC/AAC half were highly up-regulated in macrophage EVs upon exposure to lipopolysaccharide and in the plasma of patients infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The 5'-tRNAValCAC/AAC half-mediated activation of TLR7 effectively eradicated bacteria infected in macrophages. Mutation analyses of the 5'-tRNAValCAC/AAC half identified the terminal GUUU sequence as a determinant for TLR7 activation. We confirmed that GUUU is the optimal ratio of guanosine and uridine for TLR7 activation; microRNAs or other RNAs with the terminal GUUU motif can indeed stimulate TLR7, establishing the motif as a universal signature for TLR7 activation. These results advance our understanding of endogenous ssRNA ligands of TLR7 and offer insights into diverse TLR7-involved pathologies and their therapeutic strategies.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

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