Although the interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) receptor on murine and human mononuclear phagocytes has been defined and partially characterized, very little data exists which describes the ultimate fate of receptor-bound ligand. The current studies were specifically designed to define the metabolic processes which act on murine recombinant IFN-gamma following its interaction with murine macrophages at physiologic temperatures. Ligand internalization was demonstrated by comparing binding of [125I]IFN-gamma to macrophages at 4 degrees C and 37 degrees C. When binding was carried out at 4 degrees C, 96% of the cell-associated [125I]IFN-gamma remained accessible at the plasma membrane and could be stripped from the cell by exposure to pronase. In contrast, at 37 degrees C, only 35% of the cell-associated radioactivity was pronase strippable. Macrophages degraded [125I]IFN-gamma into trichloroacetic acid-soluble material at 37 degrees C at a constant rate of 7000 molecules/cell/hr over a 12-hr time period. The amount of IFN-gamma degraded correlated with the amount of IFN-gamma bound to the cell surface. The receptor was neither up- nor down-regulated by ligand or by other agents known to regulate macrophage functional activity such as IFN-alpha, IFN-beta, lipopolysaccharide, or phorbol myristate acetate. The constant uptake of IFN-gamma by macrophages was due to the presence of an intracellular receptor pool (62% of the total receptor number) and to a mechanism of receptor recycling. Evidence for the latter was obtained using lysosomotropic agents which blocked degradation but not binding and internalization of ligand and caused the intracellular accumulation of receptor. By comparing the relationship between receptor occupancy and biologic response induction, two activation mechanisms became apparent. Induction of certain functions, such as H2O2 secretion, appeared to require only a single round of receptor occupancy. However, induction of more complex functions such as nonspecific tumoricidal activity appeared to require three to four rounds of receptor occupancy. These results thus support the concept that IFN-gamma internalization and receptor recycling are essential in the induction of nonspecific tumoricidal activity by macrophages.

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