l-Carnitine, in addition to playing a fundamental role in the β-oxidation of fatty acids, has been recently identified as a modulator of immune function, although the mechanisms that underlie this role remain to be clarified. In this study, we addressed the modulation of l-carnitine transport and expression of related transporters during differentiation of human monocytes to macrophages. Whereas monocytes display a modest uptake of l-carnitine, GM-CSF-induced differentiation massively increased the saturable Na+-dependent uptake of l-carnitine. Kinetic and inhibition analyses demonstrate that in macrophage l-carnitine transport is mediated by a high-affinity component (Km ∼4 µM) that is identifiable with the operation of OCTN2 transporter and a low-affinity component (Km > 10 mM) that is identifiable with system A for neutral amino acids. Consistently, both SLC22A5/OCTN2 and SLC38A2/SNAT2 are induced during the differentiation of monocytes to macrophages at gene and protein levels. Elucidation of GM-CSF signaling demonstrates that the cytokine causes the activation of mTOR kinase, leading to the phosphorylation and activation of STAT3, which, in turn, is responsible for OCTN2 transcription. SLC22A5/OCTN2 therefore emerges as a novel member of the set of genes markers of macrophage differentiation.
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