, Volume 184, Issue 1-4, pp 86-103

The NADPH oxidase of phagocytic cells is an electron pump that alkalinises the phagocytic vacuole

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Phagocytic cells of the immune system contain an oxidase that is important for the killing and digestion of engulfed microbes. This is an electron transport chain that transfers electrons from NADPH in the cytosol to oxygen to form superoxide and hydrogen peroxide in the phagocytic vacuole. Absence or abnormality of this oxidase results in the syndrome of CGD, characterised by a profound predisposition to infection. The electron transport chain consists of a flavocytochrome b located in the plasma membrane and membrane of the specific granules. It is composed of a and b-subunits, with apparent molecular masses of 23 kDa and 76–92 kDa, respectively. The b-subunit is a member of the FNR family of reductases with FAD and NADPH binding sites. Based upon the crystal structure of FNR we have constructed a model of the more hydrophilic C terminal half of this b-subunit, which acts as a guide to the organisation of the molecule, and provides a template on which to map mutations in CGD. The location of the heme is uncertain. Electron transport is dependent upon an activation complex of cytosolic proteins including p40 phox , p47 phox , and p67 phox , and the small GTP binding protein, p21 rac . This oxidase system is important for the killing and digestion of bacteria and fungi. This might be accomplished in a number of ways. The oxidase produces superoxide and hydrogen which might be toxic themselves. The hydrogen peroxide can act as substrate for myeloperoxidase which can oxidise chloride and iodide to chlorine and iodine and their hypohalous acids. The proteins contained within the cytoplasmic granules are also very important in the killing process. These are neutral proteinases that require a neutral or slightly alkaline pH for optimal activity. The oxidase transports electrons, unaccompanied by protons, across the wall of the phagocytic vacuole, resulting in an elevation of the vacuolar pH, thereby optimising conditions for killing and digestion of engulfed organisms by these neutral proteinases.