The recognition step in the phagocytotic process of the unicellular amoeba dictyostelium discoideum was examined by analysis of mutants defective in phagocytosis, Reliable and simple assays were developed to measure endocytotic uptake. For pinocytosis, FITC-dextran was found to be a suitable fluid-phase marker; FITC-bacteria, latex beads, and erythrocytes were used as phagocytotic substrates. Ingested material was isolated in one step by centrifuging through highly viscous poly(ethyleneglycol) solutions and was analyzed optically.
A selection procedure for isolating mutants defective in phagocytosis was devised using tungsten beads as particulate prey. Nonphagocytosing cells were isolated on the basis of their lower density. Three mutant strains were found exhibiting a clear-cut phenotype directly related to the phagocytotic event.
In contrast to the situation in wild-type cells, uptake of E. coli B/r by mutant cells is specifically and competitively inhibited by glucose. Mutant amoeba phagocytose latex beads normally but not protein-coated latex, nonglucosylated bacteria, or erythrocytes. Cohesive properties of mutant cells are altered: they do not form EDTA-sensitive aggregates, and adhesiveness to glass or plastic surfaces is greatly reduced.
Based upon these findings, a model for recognition in phagocytosis is proposed: (a) A lectin-type receptor specifically mediates binding of particles containing terminal glucose (E. coli B/r). (b) A second class of "nonspecific" receptors mediate binding of a variety of particles by hydrophobic interaction. Nonspecific binding is affected by mutation in such a way that only strongly hydrophobic (latex) but not more hydrophilic particles (e.g., protein-coated latex, bacteria, erythrocytes) can be phagocytosed by mutant amoebae.