Chemokines form complex signals during inflammation and disease that can be decoded by extracellular matrix proteoglycans

Amanda JL Ridley, Yaqing Ou, Richard Karlsson, Nabina Pun, Holly L Birchenough, Iashia Mulholland, Mary Birch, Andrew MacDonald, Thomas A Jowitt, Craig Lawless, Rebecca L Miller, Douglas P Dyer

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Chemokine driven leukocyte recruitment is a key component of the immune response and is central to a wide range of diseases. However, there has yet to be a clinically successful therapeutic approach that targets the chemokine system during inflammatory disease; possibly due to the supposed redundancy of the chemokine system. A range of studies have demonstrated that the chemokine system is in fact based on specificity of function. We have generated a resource to analyse chemokine gene (ligand and receptor) expression across species, tissues and diseases; revealing complex expression patterns whereby multiple chemokine ligands that mediate recruitment of the same leukocyte type are expressed in the same context, e.g. the CXCR3 ligands CXCL9, CXCL10 and CXCL11. We use biophysical approaches to show that CXCL9, CXCL10 and CXCL11 have very different interactions with extracellular matrix glycosaminoglycans ( ECM GAGs) which is exacerbated by specific GAG sulphation. Finally, in vivo approaches demonstrate that GAG-binding is critical for CXCL9 driven recruitment of specific T cell subsets (e.g. CD4+) but not others (e.g. CD8+), irrespective of CXCR3 expression. Our data demonstrate that chemokine expression is complex and that multiple ligands are likely needed for robust leukocyte recruitment across tissues and diseases. We also demonstrate that ECM GAGs facilitate decoding of these complex chemokine signals so that they are either primarily presented on GAG-coated cell surfaces or remain more soluble. Our findings represent a new mechanistic understanding of chemokine mediated immune cell recruitment and identify novel avenues to target specific chemokines during inflammatory disease.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)eadf2537
JournalScience Signaling
Issue number810
Publication statusPublished - 7 Nov 2023


  • Humans
  • Chemokine CXCL10
  • Proteoglycans
  • Chemokines/genetics
  • Leukocytes
  • Extracellular Matrix/genetics
  • Inflammation/genetics

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Manchester Cancer Research Centre


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