Macrophage migration inhibitory factor (MIF) is a pleiotropic cytokine that plays a role in innate and adaptive immunity. Depending on the cellular context and disease state, MIF signaling is mediated by its receptors CXCR2, CXCR4 and/or CD74. Although it is known that MIF is endocytosed, the exact mechanism has remained unknown. In exploring the mechanism of MIF endocytosis with biologically active Alexa(546)MIF, pathway-specific inhibitors (monodansylcadaverine, MDC; chlorpromazine, CPZ; dynasore; dominant-negative dynamin, bafilomycin, nocodazole) and receptor overexpression and blockade approaches, we identified a clathrin/dynamin-dependent endocytosis pathway as the main track for MIF internalization. MIF endocytosis was rapid and colocalization with both early and late endosomal vesicles in a microtubule- and acidification-dependent manner was observed. LDL endocytosis (which is clathrin-mediated) served as a control and was similarly inhibited by MDC or dynasore. When MIF endocytosis was compared to that of transferrin, acetylated LDL, and choleratoxin B (the latter internalized by a clathrin-independent pathway) by colocalization studies, the MIF internalization pathway clearly resembled that of LDL but also shared early trafficking with transferrin, whereas no colocalization with choleratoxin was noted. To identify the receptors involved in MIF endocytosis, we focused on CD74 and CXCR4 which form a heteromeric complex. Ectopic overexpression of CD74 in HEK293 and HeLa cells, which do not endogenously express CD74, led to a marked acceleration of MIF endocytosis while pharmacological blockade of CXCR4, which is endogenously expressed on these cells, with AMD3100 led to a 20% reduction of MIF endocytosis in HEK293-CD74 transfectants, whereas in untransfected cells, a blockade of 40% was observed. Of note, both CD74 and CXCR4 strongly colocalize with Alexa(546)MIF both on the plasma membrane and in endosomal compartments. Moreover, MIF-stimulated AKT signaling, which was previously shown to involve both CD74 and CXCR4, was reduced by endocytosis inhibitors, indicating that MIF signaling is at least in part due to endosomal signaling mechanisms. Thus, MIF uptake follows a rapid LDL-like, clathrin- and dynamin-dependent endocytosis pathway, which is dependent on the receptors CD74 and CXCR4 and leads to the initiation of endosomal signaling responses.
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