The initial interaction of Gram-negative bacteria with erythrocytes and its implications on leukocyte phagocytosis and oxidative burst in human whole blood were examined. Alexa-labeled Escherichia coli, wild-type H44/76 N. meningitidis and the H44/76lpxA lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-deficient mutant were incubated with whole blood using lepirudin as anticoagulant which has no adverse effects on complement. Bacteria free in plasma, bound to erythrocytes or phagocytized by granulocytes and monocytes were quantified using flow cytometry. The effects of the C3 inhibitor compstatin, a C5a receptor antagonist (C5aRa) and a complement receptor 1 (CR1)-blocking antibody (3D9) were examined. Most bacteria (80%) immediately bound to erythrocytes. The binding gradually declined over time, with a parallel increase in phagocytosis. Complement inhibition with compstatin reduced erythrocyte binding and bacterial C3 opsonization. In contrast, the C5aRa efficiently reduced phagocytosis, but did not affect the binding of bacteria to erythrocytes. The anti-CR1 blocking mAb dose-dependently reduced bacterial binding to erythrocytes to nil, with subsequent increased phagocytosis and oxidative burst. LPS had no effect on these processes since similar results were obtained using an LPS-deficient N. meningitidis mutant. In vivo experiments in a pig model of sepsis showed limited binding of bacteria to erythrocytes, consistent with the facts that erythrocyte CR1 receptors are absent in non-primates and that the bacteria were mainly found in the lungs. In conclusion, complement-dependent binding of Gram-negative bacteria to erythrocyte CR1 decreases phagocytosis and oxidative burst by leukocytes in human whole blood.
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