An intracellular signaling hierarchy determines direction of migration in opposing chemotactic gradients

J Cell Biol. 2002 Oct 14;159(1):91-102. doi: 10.1083/jcb.200202114. Epub 2002 Oct 7.


Neutrophils must follow both endogenous and bacterial chemoattractant signals out of the vasculature and through the interstitium to arrive at a site of infection. By necessity, in the setting of multiple chemoattractants, the neutrophils must prioritize, favoring end target chemoattractants (e.g., fMLP and C5a) emanating from the site of infection over intermediary endogenous chemoattractants (e.g., IL-8 and LTB4) encountered en route to sites of infection. In this study, we propose a hierarchical model of two signaling pathways mediating the decision-making process of the neutrophils, which allows end target molecules to dominate over intermediary chemoattractants. In an under agarose assay, neutrophils predominantly migrated toward end target chemoattractants via p38 MAPK, whereas intermediary chemoattractant-induced migration was phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K)/Akt dependent. When faced with competing gradients of end target and intermediary chemoattractants, Akt activation was significantly reduced within neutrophils, and the cells migrated preferentially toward end target chemoattractants even at 1/1,000th that of intermediary chemoattractants. End target molecules did not require chemotactic properties, since the p38 MAPK activator, LPS, also inhibited Akt and prevented migration to intermediary chemoattractants. p38 MAPK inhibitors not only reversed this hierarchy, such that neutrophils migrated preferentially toward intermediary chemoattractants, but also allowed neutrophils to be drawn out of a local end target chemoattractant environment and toward intermediary chemoattractants unexpectedly in an exaggerated (two- to fivefold) fashion. This was entirely related to significantly increased magnitude and duration of Akt activation. Finally, end target chemoattractant responses were predominantly Mac-1 dependent, whereas nondominant chemoattractants used primarily LFA-1. These data provide support for a two pathway signaling model wherein the end target chemoattractants activate p38 MAPK, which inhibits intermediary chemoattractant-induced PI3K/Akt pathway, establishing an intracellular signaling hierarchy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Chemotactic Factors / metabolism*
  • Chemotaxis, Leukocyte / physiology*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-8 / metabolism
  • Lymphocyte Function-Associated Antigen-1 / metabolism
  • Macrophage-1 Antigen / metabolism
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / metabolism
  • Neutrophils / drug effects
  • Neutrophils / physiology*
  • Peptides / metabolism
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases / metabolism
  • Phosphoinositide-3 Kinase Inhibitors
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / metabolism
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt
  • Receptors, Interleukin-8A / metabolism
  • Receptors, Interleukin-8B / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction*
  • p38 Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases


  • Chemotactic Factors
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Interleukin-8
  • Lymphocyte Function-Associated Antigen-1
  • Macrophage-1 Antigen
  • Peptides
  • Phosphoinositide-3 Kinase Inhibitors
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • Receptors, Interleukin-8A
  • Receptors, Interleukin-8B
  • AKT1 protein, human
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases
  • p38 Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases
  • Calcium