The leukocyte CD11/CD18 adhesion molecules (beta 2 integrins) are a family of three heterodimeric glycoproteins each with a distinct alpha subunit (CD11a, b, or c) and a common beta subunit (CD18). CD11/CD18 mediate crucial leukocyte adhesion functions such as chemotaxis, phagocytosis, adhesion to endothelium, aggregation, and cell-mediated cytotoxicity. The enhanced cell adhesion observed upon activation of leukocytes is associated with increased surface membrane expression of CD11/CD18, as well as a qualitative upregulation of CD11/CD18 functions. To elucidate the nature of the qualitative modifications that occur, we examined the phosphorylation status of these molecules in resting human leukocytes and upon activation with PMA or with the chemotactic peptide F-met-leu-phe (FMLP). In unstimulated cells, all three CD11 subunits were found to be constitutively phosphorylated. In contrast, phosphorylation of the common CD18 subunit was minimal. PMA induced rapid and sustained phosphorylation of CD18 that occurred at high stoichiometry, but had only minimal effects on phosphorylation of the associated CD11 subunits. FMLP also induced rapid phosphorylation of CD18, but the effect was of short duration. FMLP-induced phosphorylation of CD18 was not related to its Ca++-mobilizing effect, as CD18 phosphorylation was not observed upon treatment of leukocytes with the Ca++ ionophore, ionomycin. Phosphoamino acid analysis of CD11/CD18 in PMA- or FMLP-treated monocytes revealed a predominance of phosphoserine residues in all CD11/CD18 subunits. A small component of phosphothreonine was present in CD11c and CD18 and a minor component of phosphotyrosine was also detected in CD18 upon leukocyte activation may regulate the adhesion functions mediated by the CD11/CD18 family of molecules.

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