Platelet-activating factor (PAF) desensitizes as well as stimulates its various target cells, We find that human polymorphonuclear neutrophils (PMN) exposed to PAF became maximally unresponsive to a second PAF challenge within 15-90 s in assays of Ca2+ mobilization and degranulation. The cells regained full PAF-sensitivity over the ensuing 20-40 min. These effects correlated with changes in PAF receptor availability. PMN treated with PAF, washed in regular buffer and assayed for PAF binding exhibited falls (maximal in 15 s), followed by rises (reaching control levels by 60 min), in the number of high-affinity PAF receptors. However, tracking studies showed that [3H]PAF accumulated on the cell surface for approximately 2 min before being internalized. Regular-buffer washes did not remove this superficial PAF, whereas a washing regimen using excess albumin to adsorb PAF removed 99% of the surface compound. PMN washed by the latter regimen after PAF exposure lost PAF receptors relatively slowly (maximal at approximately 5 min), but the ultimate extent of this loss and the rate at which receptor expression normalized were similar to those of cells washed in regular buffer. Neither cycloheximide nor actinomycin D influenced the course of the receptor changes, but two protein kinase C (PKC) blockers, staurosporine and 1-(5-isoquinolinesulphonyl)piperazine, inhibited the receptor-receptor-depleting actions of PAF. Indeed, a phorbol diester activator of PKC also caused PMN to decrease high-affinity PAF receptor numbers, and the two PKC blockers antagonized this action at concentrations that inhibited PAF-induced PAF receptor losses. We conclude that: (a) PAF induces PMN to down-regulate and then to re-express PAF receptors independently of protein synthesis; (b) these changes are likely to underlie the later stages and reversal of desensitization; (c) the onset (t < or = 2 min) of desensitization, however, precedes receptor down-regulation and must be due to receptor uncoupling from transductional elements; and (d) down-regulation of receptors for PAF appears to be mediated by PKC and/or elements inhibited by PKC blockers.

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