Cellular mechanism of neutrophil chemotaxis: the role of CA+2, as viewed with the fluorescent dye, FURA-2, in the polarization of human polymorphonuclear leukocytes following stimulation with the chemoattractant, F-Methionyl-Leucyl-Phenylalanine: a thesis

Publication Date

April 1987

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, Department of Physiology


Phagocytosis; Neutrophils; Chemotaxis, Leukocyte; Academic Dissertations


The mechanism by which a cell translates a spatially oriented, extracellular signal into a change in morphology and behavior is the key to understanding many biological processes. In order to investigate this general phenomenon, I have studied the chemotactic response of human polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMN's) to f-methionyl-leucyl-phenylalanine (fMLP). Stimulation of PMN's with fMLP produces a plethora of intracellular events, including increases in cytosolic Ca+2. PMN's are also morphologically and behaviorally polarized by stimulation with chemoattractant; the membrane components and cytosolic organelles of polarized PMN's become asymmetrically distributed. Polarization and subsequent orientation of PMN's in the direction of fMLP are steps which precede and are necessary for chemotaxis.

I have chosen to examine the role of Ca+2, a ubiquitous second messenger, in the polarization of PMN's to fMLP. To accomplish this goal, Ca+2 has been measured in resting and polarized PMN's, utilizing the intracellular fluorescence of the Ca+2-sensitive dye, fura-2. Initial experiments have revealed a Ca+2-insensitive form of fura-2 associated with PMN's which, if uncorrected, would lead to erroneous measurements of [Ca+2]. I have suggested putative sources for the Ca+2-insensitive fluorescence in PMN's and have presented two methods for accurate calculation of [Ca+2] in spite of the additional component of fluorescence.

As measured from the cell-associated fluorescence of fura-2, [Ca+2] increases without a detectable lag upon addition of fMLP to PMN's in suspension. The rise in [Ca+2] is associated with an increase in the percentage of cells which polarize to fMLP. The increases in [Ca+2] and in polarization are both directly related to increases in the concentration of chemoattractant. Inhibition of the rise in [Ca+2], by exposure of the human donor to aspirin or addition of EGTA to isolated cells, results in a concommitant reduction in the percentage of cells which polarize to fMLP. These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that Ca+2 acts as a second messenger in the pathway of transduction of the extracellular signal which results in polarization. However, addition of ionomycin, the Ca+2-selective ionophore, to PMN's did not induce polarization either in the presence or in the absence of fMLP. This result suggests that increases Ca+2, which appear to be necessary for polarization, are locally distributed within the fMLP-stimulated PMN.

Examination of the subcellular distribution of Ca+2 using the digital imaging microscope reveals that Ca+2 is not uniformly distributed in the polarized PMN. Cells polarized by stimulation with fMLP often exhibit regional differences in [Ca+2] from front to tail. The magnitude and direction of the intracellular gradient varies among cells and suggests that within individual cells, the heterogeneity of [Ca+2] varies temporally and spatially as the cell chemotaxes.

The results of the experiments conducted in this dissertation suggest that Ca+2 plays an important role as second messenger in fMLP-stimulated PMN's. I suggest that the morphological polarity of the chemotactic PMN is dependent upon the establishment and maintenance of an intracellular Ca+2 gradient.


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