Mouse peritoneal macrophages possess a specific plasma membrane receptor for antibody-coated particles. Sheep red cells coated with rabbit 7S antibody attach readily to the macrophage surface and are subsequently interiorized. The fusion of macrophage with nonphagocytic mouse melanoma cells produces heterokaryons in which the macrophage receptor is drastically altered. The receptor is present shortly after fusion and heterokaryons are actively phagocytic. The ability to bind and ingest red cells is, however, progressively lost over the next 12–24 hr and does not reappear thereafter.
Exposure of heterokaryons to trypsin (1–100 µg/ml for 30 min at 37°C) results in the reappearance of initial receptor activity and the unmasking of the surface receptor. This property is again lost upon subsequent cultivation. The masking process takes place when cells are cultivated in the absence of IgG so that the adsorption of antibody from the medium is not responsible for this phenomenon. Inhibition of heterokaryon protein synthesis preserves phagocytic activity in a reversible fashion and prevents the masking of macrophage receptors. Inhibition of melanoma RNA synthesis before fusion is also able to block subsequent masking, but is ineffective if delayed until after fusion. Ultraviolet irradiation of the melanoma cell before fusion prevents subsequent masking, whereas similar treatment of the macrophage has no effect.
Cells differ markedly in their ability to mask the macrophage phagocytic receptor after fusion. Ehrlich ascites tumor cells mask the receptor rapidly, primary chick fibroblasts minimally, and embryonic chick erythrocytes not at all.