How do chemokines navigate neutrophils to the target site: Dissecting the structural mechanisms and signaling pathways

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© 2018 Elsevier Inc. Chemokines play crucial roles in combating microbial infection and initiating tissue repair by recruiting neutrophils in a timely and coordinated manner. In humans, no less than seven chemokines (CXCL1, CXCL2, CXCL3, CXCL5, CXCL6, CXCL7, and CXCL8) and two receptors (CXCR1 and CXCR2) mediate neutrophil functions but in a context dependent manner. Neutrophil-activating chemokines reversibly exist as monomers and dimers, and their receptor binding triggers conformational changes that are coupled to G-protein and β-arrestin signaling pathways. G-protein signaling activates a variety of effectors including Ca2+ channels and phospholipase C. β-arrestin serves as a multifunctional adaptor and is coupled to several signaling hubs including MAP kinase and tyrosine kinase pathways. Both G-protein and β-arrestin signaling pathways play important non-overlapping roles in neutrophil trafficking and activation. Functional studies have established many similarities but distinct differences for a given chemokine and between chemokines at the level of monomer vs. dimer, CXCR1 vs. CXCR2 activation, and G-protein vs. β-arrestin pathways. We propose that two forms of the ligand binding two receptors and activating two signaling pathways enables fine-tuned neutrophil function compared to a single form, a single receptor, or a single pathway. We summarize the current knowledge on the molecular mechanisms by which chemokine monomers/dimers activate CXCR1/CXCR2 and how these interactions trigger G-protein/β-arrestin-coupled signaling pathways. We also discuss current challenges and knowledge gaps, and likely advances in the near future that will lead to a better understanding of the relationship between the chemokine-CXCR1/CXCR2-G-protein/β-arrestin axis and neutrophil function.






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Rajarathnam, Krishna, Michael Schnoor, Ricardo M Richardson and Sudarshan Rajagopal (2019). How do chemokines navigate neutrophils to the target site: Dissecting the structural mechanisms and signaling pathways. Cellular Signalling, 54. pp. 69–80. 10.1016/j.cellsig.2018.11.004 Retrieved from

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Sudarshan Rajagopal

Associate Professor of Medicine

I am a physician-scientist with a research focus on G protein-coupled receptor signaling in inflammation and vascular disease and a clinical focus on pulmonary vascular disease, as I serve as Co-Director of the Duke Pulmonary Vascular Disease Center. My research spans the spectrum from clinical research in pulmonary vascular disease, to translational research in cardiovascular disease, to the basic science of receptor signaling. 

Our basic science resesarch focuses on understanding and untapping the signaling potential of G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) to regulate inflammation in vascular disease. GPCRs are the most common transmembrane receptors in the human genome (over 800 members) and are some of the most successful targets for drug therapies. While it has been known for some time that these receptors signal through multiple downstream effectors (such as heterotrimeric G proteins and multifunctional beta arrestin adapter proteins), over the past decade it has been better appreciated that these receptors are capable of signaling with different efficacies to these effectors, a phenomenon referred to as “biased agonism”. Ligands can be biased, by activating different pathways from one another, and receptors can be biased, by signaling to a limited number of pathways that are normally available to them. Moreover, this phenomenon also appears to be common to other transmembrane and nuclear receptors. While a growing number of biased agonists acting at multiple receptors have been identified, there is still little known regarding the mechanisms underlying biased signaling and its physiologic impact.

Much of our research focuses on the chemokine system, which consists of approximately twenty receptors and fifty ligands that display considerable promiscuity with each other in the regulation of immune cell function in inflammatory diseases. Research from our group and others have shown that many of these ligands act as biased agonists when signaling through the same receptor. We use models of inflammation such as contact hypersensitivity and pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH). PAH is a disease of the pulmonary arterioles that results in right heart failure and most of its treatments target signaling by GPCRs. We use multiple approaches to probe these signaling mechanisms, including in-house pharmacological assays, advanced phosphoproteomics and single cell RNA sequencing.

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