Engagement of immune receptors by antigen may lead to activation, cell proliferation, differentiation and effector functions. It has recently been proposed that the initiation and propagation of the signaling events taking place in immune cells occur in specialized membrane regions called lipid rafts. These detergent-insoluble glycolipid domains are specialized membrane compartments enriched in cholesterol and glycolipids. They also contain many lipid-modified signaling proteins such as tyrosine kinases of the Src family, GPI (glycosylphosphatidylinositol)-linked proteins as well as adaptor proteins. The confinement of signaling molecules in membrane subdomains suggests that lipid rafts function as platforms for the formation of multicomponent transduction complexes. Indeed, upon receptor binding, immune receptors become raft-associated and additional components of the signaling pathways are recruited to rafts in order to form signaling complexes. It has been speculated that the entry of immune receptors into rafts can regulate cell activation. Accordingly, numerous experiments have provided substantial evidence that raft integrity is crucial for the initiation and maintenance of intracellular signals. Recent studies have also shown that the access and translocation of immune receptors to lipid rafts are developmentally regulated (immature versus mature cells, Th1 versus Th2 lymphocytes) and sensitive to pharmacological agents. The aim of the present review is to summarize the current knowledge of immune receptor signal transduction with particular emphasis on the role of membrane compartments in immune activation. Finally, experimental evidences indicating that these membrane structures may represent clinically relevant potential targets for immune regulation, will be discussed.
Keywords: lipid rafts, immunoregulation, immune receptors, cell proliferation, detergent-insoluble, multicomponent transduction, intracellular signals, immune regulation, bcr signaling
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