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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 Mar 28;103(13):4930-4. Epub 2006 Mar 20.

Role of target geometry in phagocytosis.

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Department of Chemical Engineering, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, USA.


Phagocytosis is a principal component of the body's innate immunity in which macrophages internalize targets in an actin-dependent manner. Targets vary widely in shape and size and include particles such as pathogens and senescent cells. Despite considerable progress in understanding this complicated process, the role of target geometry in phagocytosis has remained elusive. Previous studies on phagocytosis have been performed using spherical targets, thereby overlooking the role of particle shape. Using polystyrene particles of various sizes and shapes, we studied phagocytosis by alveolar macrophages. We report a surprising finding that particle shape, not size, plays a dominant role in phagocytosis. All shapes were capable of initiating phagocytosis in at least one orientation. However, the local particle shape, measured by tangent angles, at the point of initial contact dictates whether macrophages initiate phagocytosis or simply spread on particles. The local shape determines the complexity of the actin structure that must be created to initiate phagocytosis and allow the membrane to move over the particle. Failure to create the required actin structure results in simple spreading and not internalization. Particle size primarily impacts the completion of phagocytosis in cases where particle volume exceeds the cell volume.

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