Cholesterol and sphingomyelin are critical for Fcγ receptor-mediated phagocytosis of Cryptococcus neoformans by macrophages

J Biol Chem. 2021 Dec;297(6):101411. doi: 10.1016/j.jbc.2021.101411. Epub 2021 Nov 16.


Cryptococcus neoformans is a fungal pathogen that causes life-threatening meningoencephalitis in lymphopenic patients. Pulmonary macrophages comprise the first line of host defense upon inhalation of fungal spores by aiding in clearance but can also potentially serve as a niche for their dissemination. Given that macrophages play a key role in the outcome of a cryptococcal infection, it is crucial to understand factors that mediate phagocytosis of C. neoformans. Since lipid rafts (high-order plasma membrane domains enriched in cholesterol and sphingomyelin [SM]) have been implicated in facilitating phagocytosis, we evaluated whether these ordered domains govern macrophages' ability to phagocytose C. neoformans. We found that cholesterol or SM depletion resulted in significantly deficient immunoglobulin G (IgG)-mediated phagocytosis of fungus. Moreover, repletion of macrophage cells with a raft-promoting sterol (7-dehydrocholesterol) rescued this phagocytic deficiency, whereas a raft-inhibiting sterol (coprostanol) significantly decreased IgG-mediated phagocytosis of C. neoformans. Using a photoswitchable SM (AzoSM), we observed that the raft-promoting conformation (trans-AzoSM) resulted in efficient phagocytosis, whereas the raft-inhibiting conformation (cis-AzoSM) significantly but reversibly blunted phagocytosis. We observed that the effect on phagocytosis may be facilitated by Fcγ receptor (FcγR) function, whereby IgG immune complexes crosslink to FcγRIII, resulting in tyrosine phosphorylation of FcR γ-subunit (FcRγ), an important accessory protein in the FcγR signaling cascade. Correspondingly, cholesterol or SM depletion resulted in decreased FcRγ phosphorylation. Repletion with 7-dehydrocholesterol restored phosphorylation, whereas repletion with coprostanol showed FcRγ phosphorylation comparable to unstimulated cells. Together, these data suggest that lipid rafts are critical for facilitating FcγRIII-mediated phagocytosis of C. neoformans.

Keywords: Fc-gamma receptor; cholesterol; fungi; lipid raft; macrophage; phagocytosis; sphingomyelin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Fungal / metabolism*
  • Cell Line
  • Cholesterol / metabolism*
  • Cryptococcus neoformans / metabolism*
  • Immunoglobulin G / metabolism*
  • Macrophages, Alveolar / metabolism*
  • Membrane Microdomains / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Phagocytosis*
  • Receptors, IgG / metabolism*
  • Sphingomyelins / metabolism*


  • Antibodies, Fungal
  • Immunoglobulin G
  • Receptors, IgG
  • Sphingomyelins
  • Cholesterol