- Mycobacterium abscessus has emerged as an important cause of lung infection, particularly in patients with bronchiectasis. Innate immune responses must be highly effective at preventing infection with M. abscessus because it is a ubiquitous environmental saprophyte and normal hosts are not commonly infected. M. abscessus exists as either a glycopeptidolipid (GPL) expressing variant (smooth phenotype) in which GPL masks underlying bioactive cell wall lipids, or as a variant lacking GPL which is immunostimulatory and invasive in macrophage infection models. Respiratory epithelium has been increasingly recognized as playing an important role in the innate immune response to pulmonary pathogens. Respiratory epithelial cells express toll-like receptors (TLRs) which mediate the innate immune response to pulmonary pathogens. Both interleukin-8 (IL-8) and human ?-defensin 2 (H?D2) are expressed by respiratory epithelial cells in response to toll-like receptor 2 (TLR2) receptor stimulation. In this study, we demonstrate that respiratory epithelial cells respond to M. abscessus variants lacking GPL with expression of IL-8 and H?D2. Furthermore, we demonstrate that this interaction is mediated through TLR2. Conversely, M. abscessus expressing GPL does not stimulate expression of IL-8 or H?D2 by respiratory epithelial cells which is consistent with "masking" of underlying bioactive cell wall lipids by GPL. Because GPL-expressing smooth variants are the predominant phenotype existing in the environment, this provides an explanation whereby initial M. abscessus colonization of abnormal lung airways escapes detection by the innate immune system.