The extracellular protein Spätzle is required for activation of the Toll signaling pathway in the embryonic development and innate immune defense of Drosophila. Spätzle is synthesized as a pro-protein and is processed to a functional form by a serine protease. We show here that the mature form of Spätzle triggers a Toll-dependent immune response after injection into the hemolymph of flies. Spätzle specifically bound to Drosophila cells and to Cos-7 cells expressing Toll. Furthermore, in vitro experiments showed that the mature form of Spätzle bound to the Toll ectodomain with high affinity and with a stoichiometry of one Spätzle dimer to two receptors. The Spätzle pro-protein was inactive in all these assays, indicating that the pro-domain sequence, which is natively unstructured, acts to prevent interaction of the cytokine and its receptor Toll. These results show that, in contrast to the human Toll-like receptors, Drosophila Toll requires only an endogenous protein ligand for activation and signaling.
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Journal article published