Phagocytosis of live versus killed or fluorescently labeled bacteria by macrophages differ in both magnitude and receptor specificity

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Scavenger receptor (SR)-mediated opsonin-independent phagocytosis of bacteria by macrophages has been suggested to represent an important, early mechanism of anti-bacterial host defense. However, although the ability to bind bacteria has been demonstrated to be a shared feature of all types of SRs, in many cases the evidence is limited to the demonstration of increased binding of killed, fluorescently labeled bacteria to non-phagocytic cells transfected with these receptors. We sought to verify the ability of SRs to mediate non-opsonic phagocytosis of liveEscherichia coli(Ec) andStaphylococcus aureus(Sa), model species of Gram-negative and -positive bacteria, respectively, and to assess the relative contributions of different SRs expressed on murine macrophages in this process. We found that the class A SR SR-A/CD204 was the major receptor mediating phagocytosis of fluorescently labeled Sa, whereas different SRs had highly redundant roles in the phagocytosis of live Sa. Conversely, different SRs contributed to the phagocytosis of fluorescently labeled Ec. In comparison, phagocytosis of live Ec was of much lower magnitude and was selectively mediated by SR-A. These results question the use of fluorescently labeled bacteria as valid replacements for live bacteria. The low magnitude of opsonin-independent phagocytosis of Ec and unimpaired phagocytosis of Sa in SR-A- or CD36-deficient macrophages indicate that the defect in this process might not be responsible for the reported impaired bacteria clearance in mice deficient in these receptors. We postulate that this impairment might result to a larger extent from inhibition of intracellular bacteria killing caused by pro-inflammatory cytokines, produced in excessive amounts by SR-deficient cells in response to bacterial products.

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