Activated Microglia Desialylate and Phagocytose Cells via Neuraminidase, Galectin-3, and Mer Tyrosine Kinase

25 Aug 2017

Activated microglia can phagocytose dying, stressed, or excess neurons and synapses via the phagocytic receptor Mer tyrosine kinase (MerTK). Galectin-3 (Gal-3) can cross-link surface glycoproteins by binding galactose residues that are normally hidden below terminal sialic acid residues. Gal-3 was recently reported to opsonize cells via activating MerTK. We found that LPS-activated BV-2 microglia rapidly released Gal-3, which was blocked by calcineurin inhibitors. Gal-3 bound to MerTK on microglia and to stressed PC12 (neuron-like) cells, and it increased microglial phagocytosis of PC12 cells or primary neurons, which was blocked by inhibition of MerTK. LPS-activated microglia exhibited a sialidase activity that desialylated PC12 cells and could be inhibited by Tamiflu, a neuraminidase (sialidase) inhibitor. Sialidase treatment of PC12 cells enabled Gal-3 to bind and opsonize the live cells for phagocytosis by microglia. LPS-induced microglial phagocytosis of PC12 was prevented by small interfering RNA knockdown of Gal-3 in microglia, lactose inhibition of Gal-3 binding, inhibition of neuraminidase with Tamiflu, or inhibition of MerTK by UNC569. LPS-induced phagocytosis of primary neurons by primary microglia was also blocked by inhibition of MerTK. We conclude that activated microglia release Gal-3 and a neuraminidase that desialylates microglial and PC12 surfaces, enabling Gal-3 binding to PC12 cells and their phagocytosis via MerTK. Thus, Gal-3 acts as an opsonin of desialylated surfaces, and inflammatory loss of neurons or synapses may potentially be blocked by inhibiting neuraminidases, Gal-3, or MerTK.