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Hoffmann, R. A wiki for the life sciences where authorship matters. Nature Genetics (2008)

Osteoclasts and giant cells: macrophage-macrophage fusion mechanism.

Membrane fusion is a ubiquitous event that occurs in a wide range of biological processes. While intracellular membrane fusion mediating organelle trafficking is well understood, much less is known about cell-cell fusion mediating sperm cell-oocyte, myoblast-myoblast and macrophage-macrophage fusion. In the case of mononuclear phagocytes, their fusion is not only associated with the differentiation of osteoclasts, cells which play a key role in the pathogenesis of osteoporosis, but also of giant cells that are present in chronic inflammatory reactions and in tumours. Despite the biological and pathophysiological importance of intercellular fusion events, the actual molecular mechanism of macrophage fusion is still unclear. One of the main research themes in my laboratory has been to investigate the molecular mechanism of mononuclear phagocyte fusion. Our hypothesis has been that macrophage-macrophage fusion, similar to virus-cell fusion, is mediated by specific cell surface proteins. But, in contrast with myoblasts and sperm cells, macrophage fusion is a rare event that occurs in specific instances. To test our hypothesis, we established an in vitro cell-cell fusion assay as a model system which uses alveolar macrophages. Upon multinucleation, these macrophages acquire the osteoclast phenotype. This indicates that multinucleation of macrophages leads to a specific and novel functional phenotype in macrophages. To identify the components of the fusion machinery, we generated four monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) which block the fusion of alveolar macrophages and purified the unique antigen recognized by these mAbs. This led us to the cloning of MFR (Macrophage Fusion Receptor). MFR was cloned simultaneously as P84/SHPS-1/SIRPalpha/BIT by other laboratories. We subsequently showed that the recombinant extracellular domain of MFR blocks fusion. Most recently, we identified a lower molecular weight form of MFR that is missing two extracellular immunoglobulin (Ig) C domains. Shortly after we cloned MFR, CD47 was reported to be a ligand for P84/SIRPalpha. We have since generated preliminary results which suggest that CD47 interacts with MFR during adhesion/fusion and is a member of the fusion machinery. We also identified CD44 as a plasma membrane protein which, like MFR, is highly expressed at the onset of fusion. The recombinant soluble extracellular domain of CD44 blocks fusion by interacting with a cell-surface binding site. We now propose a model in which both forms of MFR, CD44, and CD47 mediate macrophage adhesion/fusion and therefore the differentiation of osteoclasts and giant cells.[1]


  1. Osteoclasts and giant cells: macrophage-macrophage fusion mechanism. Vignery, A. International journal of experimental pathology. (2000) [Pubmed]
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