NR4A orphan nuclear receptor family members, NR4A2 and NR4A3, regulate neutrophil number and survival

Lynne R. Prince, Svenja Dannewitz Prosseda, Kathryn Higgins, Jennifer Carlring, Elizabeth C. Prestwich, Nikolay V. Ogryzko, Atiqur Rahman, Alexander Basran, Francesco Falciani, Philip Taylor, Stephen A. Renshaw, Moira K.B. Whyte and Ian Sabroe

Key points

  • We demonstrate an important role for NR4A receptors in regulating neutrophil lifespan and homeostasis in vitro and in vivo.

  • These findings may define targets for therapies for diseases driven by defects in neutrophil number and/or survival.


Neutrophil lifespan is plastic and highly responsive to factors that regulate cellular survival. Defects in neutrophil number and survival are common to both hematologic disorders and chronic inflammatory diseases. At sites of inflammation, neutrophils respond to multiple signals that activate protein kinase A (PKA) signaling, which positively regulates neutrophil survival. The aim of this study was to define transcriptional responses to PKA activation and to delineate the roles of these factors in neutrophil function and survival. In human neutrophil gene array studies, we show that PKA activation upregulates a significant number of apoptosis related genes, the most highly regulated of these being NR4A2 and NR4A3. Direct PKA activation by the site-selective PKA agonist pair N6/8-AHA and treatment with endogenous activators of PKA, including adenosine and PGE2, results in a profound delay of neutrophil apoptosis and concomitant upregulation of NR4A2/3 in a PKA dependent manner. NR4A3 expression is also increased at sites of neutrophilic inflammation in a human model of intradermal inflammation. PKA activation also promotes survival of murine neutrophil progenitor cells, and siRNA to NR4A2 decreases neutrophil production in this model. Antisense knockdown of NR4A2 and NR4A3 homologues in zebrafish larvae significantly reduces absolute neutrophil number without affecting cellular migration. In summary, we show that NR4A2 and NR4A3 are components of a downstream transcriptional response to PKA activation in the neutrophil, and that they positively regulate neutrophil survival and homeostasis.

  • Submitted March 9, 2017.
  • Accepted June 18, 2017.