Apoptosis is promoted by unconventional FcγR-PI3KCdc42- Pak-Mek-Erk signalling in the human neutrophil
Chu, Ying Ying Julia
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Neutrophils form a first line of defence against infections. These short-lived, terminally differentiated cells perform many important functions, including chemotaxis, degranulation, reactive oxygen species (ROS) release and cytokine production. Whilst neutrophils are essential for host immunity, their inappropriate recruitment, activation and/or removal can contribute to excessive inflammation and host damage, as exemplified in autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. It is therefore essential that neutrophil function is tightly regulated. Neutrophils are activated by a range of stimuli, including immune complexes. Neutrophil functions are tightly regulated by intracellular signalling events that are induced by the ligation of cell surface receptors, for example, the binding of immune complexes to Fc receptors. Phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K) and extracellular signal-regulated kinase (Erk) are key signalling intermediates that act downstream of many cell surface receptors. They are involved in the regulation of numerous biological processes in the neutrophil. Using pharmacological interventions, I analysed PI3K signalling in immune complex-stimulated human neutrophils and uncovered a previously uncharacterised, noncanonical signalling pathway, PI3K-Cdc42-Pak-Mek-Erk. This represents an unusual situation where Pak acts as the MAP3K downstream of Cdc42 in a PI3K-dependent fashion. By performing a range of functional experiments, I showed that this unconventional signalling pathway promotes apoptosis in human neutrophils by regulating the ratio between anti- and pro-apoptotic members of the Bcl-2 family proteins. No other immune complex-induced, PI3K-dependent neutrophil function tested depended on PI3K-Cdc42-Pak-Mek-Erk signalling. Mouse knock-outs of all components of this signalling pathway have been described. Immune complex-induced apoptosis was also PI3K-dependent in mouse neutrophils, but experiments performed with inhibitors showed that, in contrast to human neutrophils, this was not dependent on PI3K-Cdc42-Pak-Mek-Erk signalling. The myeloid leukaemia cell line, PLB-985 is amenable to knock-down and can be differentiated to become neutrophil-like. These cells are not notably activated by immune complexes, perhaps because they do not express the major Fcγ receptor, CD16. Since retroviral expression of CD16 in PLB985 cells did not improve their response to activation by immune complexes, I was not able to confirm my observations with human neutrophils genetically. Collectively, I showed that a novel, pro-apoptotic signalling pathway operates downstream of Fcγ receptors in the human neutrophil. The fact that this signalling pathway appears to regulate apoptosis specifically suggests uncoupling pro- and anti-inflammatory effects induced by immune complexes might be possible. This may be helpful in the design of improved therapies of autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, in which immune complex-driven neutrophilic inflammation contributes to disease pathogenesis and where neutrophil apoptosis is disturbed.