Neutrophils acquire antigen-presenting cell features after phagocytosis of IgG-opsonized erythrocytes

Sanne M. Meinderts, Gabriella Baker, Stan van Wijk, Boukje M. Beuger, Judy Geissler, Machiel H. Jansen, Anno Saris, Anja ten Brinke, Taco W. Kuijpers, Timo K. van den Berg and Robin van Bruggen

Key Points

  • RBC phagocytosis by neutrophils induces expression of MHC-II and costimulatory molecules and inhibits the respiratory burst.

  • Neutrophils can induce TT-specific T-cell activation and proliferation after RBC phagocytosis.


Neutrophils are particularly well known for their antimicrobial function. Although historically they are regarded as strictly a phagocyte of the innate immune system, over time it has become clear that neutrophils are versatile cells with numerous functions including innate and adaptive immune regulation. We have previously described a role for human neutrophils in antibody-mediated red blood cell (RBC) clearance. Under homeostatic conditions, neutrophils do not take up RBCs. Yet, when RBCs are immunoglobulin G (IgG) opsonized, which can occur in alloimmunization or autoimmunization reactions, neutrophils can effectively phagocytose RBCs. In the present study, we show that human neutrophils acquire an antigen-presenting cell (APC) phenotype following RBC phagocytosis. Subsequent to RBC phagocytosis, neutrophils expressed major histocompatibility complex class II (MHC-II) and costimulatory molecules such as CD40 and CD80. Moreover, in classical APCs, the respiratory burst is known to regulate antigen presentation. We found that the respiratory burst in neutrophils is reduced after IgG-mediated RBC phagocytosis. Additionally, following RBC phagocytosis, neutrophils were demonstrated to elicit an antigen-specific T-cell response, using tetanus toxoid (TT) as an antigen to elicit an autologous TT-specific CD4+ T-cell response. Lastly, although the “don’t eat me” signal CD47 is known to have a powerful restrictive role in the activation of immunity against RBCs in dendritic cells, CD47 does not seem to have a significant effect on the antigen-presenting function of neutrophils in this context. Overall, these findings reveal that besides their classical antimicrobial role, neutrophils show plasticity in their phenotype.

  • Submitted November 16, 2018.
  • Accepted March 23, 2019.
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