The CX3C chemokine family comprises only one member, CX3CL1, also known as fractalkine, which in mice is the sole ligand of the G protein-coupled, seven-transmembrane receptor CX3CR1. Unlike classical small peptide chemokines, CX3CL1 is synthesized as a membrane-anchored protein that can promote integrin-independent adhesion. Subsequent cleavage by metalloproteases, either constitutive or induced, can generate shed CX3CL1 entities that potentially have chemoattractive activity. To study the CX3C interface in tissues of live animals, we generated transgenic mice (CX3CL1cherry:CX3CR1gfp), which express red and green fluorescent reporter genes under the respective control of the CX3CL1 and CX3CR1 promoters. Furthermore, we performed a structure/function analysis to differentiate the in vivo functions of membrane-tethered vs. shed CX3CL1 moieties by comparing their respective ability to correct established defects in macrophage function and leukocyte survival in CX3CL1-deficient mice. Specifically, expression of CX3CL1105Δ, an obligatory soluble CX3CL1 isoform, reconstituted the formation of trans-epithelial dendrites by intestinal macrophages, but did not rescue circulating Ly6Clo CX3CR1hi blood monocytes in CX3CR1gfp/gfp mice. Instead, monocyte survival required the full-length membrane-anchored CX3CL1, suggesting differential activities of tethered and shed CX3CL1 entities.

  • Submitted April 15, 2011.
  • Accepted August 14, 2011.