Tissue-type plasminogen activator regulates macrophage activation and innate immunity

Elisabetta Mantuano, Pardis Azmoon, Coralie Brifault, Michael A. Banki, Andrew S. Gilder, Wendy M. Campana and Steven L. Gonias

Key Points

  • Tissue-type plasminogen activator inhibits the activity of the innate immune system in macrophages in vitro and in vivo in mice.

  • Suppression of macrophage proinflammatory responses by tPA requires the NMDA receptor.

Publisher's Note: There is an Inside Blood Commentary on this article in this issue.


Tissue-type plasminogen activator (tPA) is the major intravascular activator of fibrinolysis and a ligand for receptors involved in cell signaling. In cultured macrophages, tPA inhibits the response to lipopolysaccharide (LPS) by a pathway that apparently requires low-density lipoprotein receptor-related protein-1 (LRP1). Herein, we show that the mechanism by which tPA neutralizes LPS involves rapid reversal of IκBα phosphorylation. tPA independently induced transient IκBα phosphorylation and extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1/2 (ERK1/2) activation in macrophages; however, these events did not trigger inflammatory mediator expression. The tPA signaling response was distinguished from the signature of signaling events elicited by proinflammatory LRP1 ligands, such as receptor-associated protein (RAP), which included sustained IκBα phosphorylation and activation of all 3 MAP kinases (ERK1/2, c-Jun kinase, and p38 MAP kinase). Enzymatically active and inactive tPA demonstrated similar immune modulatory activity. Intravascular administration of enzymatically inactive tPA in mice blocked the toxicity of LPS. In mice not treated with exogenous tPA, the plasma concentration of endogenous tPA increased 3-fold in response to LPS, to 116 ± 15 pM, but remained below the approximate threshold for eliciting anti-inflammatory cell signaling in macrophages (∼2.0 nM). This threshold is readily achieved in patients when tPA is administered therapeutically for stroke. In addition to LRP1, we demonstrate that the N-methyl-D-aspartic acid receptor (NMDA-R) is expressed by macrophages and essential for anti-inflammatory cell signaling and regulation of cytokine expression by tPA. The NMDA-R and Toll-like receptor-4 were not required for proinflammatory RAP signaling. By mediating the tPA response in macrophages, the NMDA-R provides a pathway by which the fibrinolysis system may regulate innate immunity.

  • Submitted April 18, 2017.
  • Accepted July 3, 2017.
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