We have compared the oxidative response of alveolar macrophages (AM) during opsonin-dependent and independent phagocytosis by using multiparameter flow cytometry. The respiratory burst of AM during phagocytosis was quantitated by the intracellular oxidation of the nonfluorescent precursors dichlorofluorescin diacetate (DCFH) or hydroethidine (HE, a reduced precursor of ethidium) to their fluorescent (oxidized) counterparts. After loading freshly isolated normal hamster AM with DCFH or HE, red or green fluorescent beads, respectively, were added to the shaking cell suspensions. Ingestion of opsonized particles by AM caused a marked increase in oxidation of both DCFH and HE proportional to the number of beads ingested. In contrast, uptake of one to three unopsonized particles per cell led to inhibition of oxidative activity compared to control cells incubated without particles. AM ingesting four or more unopsonized particles showed some increase in oxidative metabolism, but far less than that with identical numbers of particles in opsonin-dependent ingestion. Similar results were obtained using fluorescent labeled staphylococcal bacteria. Using three-color flow cytometry to study cells ingesting both types of particles, cells first ingesting unopsonized beads were also found to have an inhibited oxidative response to subsequently ingested opsonized particles. The mitochondrial poison antimycin inhibited most of the intracellular oxidative response to either type of phagocytosis. The remaining antimycin-insensitive, membrane derived respiratory burst of AM was also substantially diminished after phagocytosis of unopsonized particles vs similar numbers of opsonized particles. The greatly increased mitochondrial respiration in AM during phagocytosis of opsonized particles may be related to bactericidal mechanisms. Killing of ingested Staphylococcus by AM was markedly impaired in the presence of antimycin. The results suggest that AM may ingest the numerous, unopsonized inert particles that are inhaled without generation of potentially toxic oxygen metabolites, while retaining the capacity to undergo a respiratory burst after ingesting opsonized particles and bacteria. The mechanism(s) for this distinct response may include generation of an inhibitor of intracellular oxidative metabolism.

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