Quantitative phosphoproteomics reveals involvement of multiple signaling pathways in early phagocytosis by the retinal pigmented epithelium

J Biol Chem. 2017 Dec 1;292(48):19826-19839. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M117.812677. Epub 2017 Oct 4.


One of the major biological functions of the retinal pigmented epithelium (RPE) is the clearance of shed photoreceptor outer segments (POS) through a multistep process resembling phagocytosis. RPE phagocytosis helps maintain the viability of photoreceptors that otherwise could succumb to the high metabolic flux and photo-oxidative stress associated with visual processing. The regulatory mechanisms underlying phagocytosis in the RPE are not fully understood, although dysfunction of this process contributes to the pathogenesis of multiple human retinal degenerative disorders, including age-related macular degeneration. Here, we present an integrated transcriptomic, proteomic, and phosphoproteomic analysis of phagocytosing RPE cells, utilizing three different experimental models: the human-derived RPE-like cell line ARPE-19, cultured murine primary RPE cells, and RPE samples from live mice. Our combined results indicated that early stages of phagocytosis in the RPE are mainly characterized by pronounced changes in the protein phosphorylation level. Global phosphoprotein enrichment analysis revealed involvement of PI3K/Akt, mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR), and MEK/ERK pathways in the regulation of RPE phagocytosis, confirmed by immunoblot analyses and in vitro phagocytosis assays. Most strikingly, phagocytosis of POS by cultured RPE cells was almost completely blocked by pharmacological inhibition of phosphorylation of Akt. Our findings, along with those of previous studies, indicate that these phosphorylation events allow the RPE to integrate multiple signals instigated by shed POS at different stages of the phagocytic process.

Keywords: eye; receptor recycling; retina; retinal degeneration; retinal metabolism.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • Mice
  • Phagocytosis*
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases / metabolism
  • Phosphoproteins / metabolism*
  • Protein Kinases / metabolism
  • Proteomics*
  • Retinal Pigment Epithelium / cytology
  • Retinal Pigment Epithelium / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction*
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism
  • Transcriptome


  • Phosphoproteins
  • Protein Kinases
  • mTOR protein, mouse
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases