The binding of neutrophils (polymorphonuclear leukocytes [PMNs]) to endothelial cells (ECs) presents special requirements in the regulation of intercellular adhesion. ECs that are stimulated by certain agonists, including thrombin and cytokines (tumor necrosis factor alpha, interleukin-1), generate molecular signals that induce the adhesion of PMNs (endothelial cell-dependent neutrophil adhesion). Our experiments demonstrate that the mechanism of binding induced by thrombin is distinct from that induced by the cytokines based on the time courses, the requirement for protein synthesis, and differential binding of HL60 promyelocytic leukemia cells to ECs activated by the two classes of agonists. The rapid EC-dependent PMN adhesion (initiated in minutes) that occurs when the ECs are stimulated by thrombin is temporally coupled with the accumulation of platelet-activating factor, a biologically active phosphoglyceride that remains associated with ECs and that activates PMNs by binding to a cell surface receptor. A portion of the newly synthesized platelet-activating factor (PAF) is on the EC surface, as demonstrated by experiments in which the rate of hydrolysis of PAF synthesized by activated ECs was accelerated by extracellular PAF acetylhydrolase. When ECs were treated with exogenous PAF they became adhesive for PMNs; the PMN binding was prevented by incubating the ECs with PAF acetylhydrolase or by treating the PMNs with competitive PAF receptor antagonists. Thus PAF associated with the EC plasma membrane induces PMN binding, an observation supported by experiments in which PAF in model membranes (liposomes) stimulated rapid PMN adhesion to ECs and to cell-free surfaces. In addition, competitive antagonists of the PAF receptor inhibited the binding of PMNs to ECs activated by thrombin and other rapidly acting agonists, but not to ECs activated by tumor necrosis factor alpha, indicating that PAF that is endogenously synthesized by ECs can mediate neutrophil adhesion. These experiments demonstrate a novel mechanism by which a cell-associated phospholipid, PAF, can serve as a signal for an intercellular adhesive event.

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