Mild acidosis delays neutrophil apoptosis via multiple signaling pathways and acts in concert with inflammatory mediators

J Leukoc Biol. 2017 Dec;102(6):1389-1400. doi: 10.1189/jlb.3A0117-041R. Epub 2017 Sep 19.


Accumulating evidence indicates development of local extracellular acidosis in inflamed tissues in response to infection and tissue injury. Activation of infiltrating neutrophils contributes to a transient decrease in pH, which, in turn, triggers innate immunity. In this study, we investigated the impact of extracellular acidosis on neutrophil apoptosis, a critical determinant of the outcome of the inflammatory response and analyzed the underlying signaling pathways. Culture of human isolated neutrophils in mildly acidotic conditions (pH 6.5-7.0) resulted in activation of NF-κB; intracellular accumulation of cAMP; and phosphorylation of Akt, ERK, and p38 MAPK; and preservation of Mcl-1 expression. Consequently, extracellular acidosis prevented disruption of mitochondrial transmembrane potential and translocation of cytochrome c and apoptosis-inducing factor from the mitochondria to cytoplasm and nuclei, respectively and inhibited caspase-3 activity. Pharmacological inhibition of ERK, PI3K, NF-κB, or PKA partially reversed survival cues by extracellular acidosis and redirected neutrophils to apoptosis. Conversely, dibutyryl cAMP (100-500 μM) delayed apoptosis of neutrophils cultured at pH 7.4. Extracellular acidosis-generated survival cues were additive to the potent prosurvival signals from bacterial DNA, LPS, modified C-reactive protein, and serum amyloid A. Acidosis increased CpG DNA uptake by neutrophils and augmented phosphorylation of ERK and Akt, leading to preservation of Mcl-1 expression. Our results identified extracellular acidosis as a survival signal for neutrophils by suppressing the constitutive apoptotic machinery and suggest that transient decreases in local pH can enhance neutrophil responses to inflammatory stimuli, thereby contributing to amplification or prolongation of the inflammatory response.

Keywords: bacterial DNA; intracellular signaling; mitochondrial dysfunction; polymorphonuclear leukocytes; programmed cell death.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acidosis / metabolism*
  • Acidosis / pathology*
  • Apoptosis* / drug effects
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Cyclic AMP / metabolism
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases / metabolism
  • Extracellular Space / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Inflammation Mediators / metabolism*
  • Mitochondria / drug effects
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • NF-kappa B / metabolism
  • Neutrophils / drug effects
  • Neutrophils / metabolism*
  • Oligodeoxyribonucleotides / pharmacology
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction* / drug effects


  • CPG-oligonucleotide
  • Inflammation Mediators
  • NF-kappa B
  • Oligodeoxyribonucleotides
  • Cyclic AMP
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases

Grant support