Phagocytosis in three steps: 1. Unbound phagocyte surface receptors do not trigger phagocytosis. 2. Binding of receptors causes them to cluster. 3. Phagocytosis is triggered and the particle is taken up by the phagocyte.
Phagocytosis is a specific form of endocytosis involving the vesicular internalization of solids such as bacteria, and is therefore distinct from other forms of endocytosis such as the vesicular internalization of various liquids (pinocytosis). Phagocytosis is involved in the acquisition of nutrients for some cells. The process is homologous to eating at the level of single-celled organisms; in multicellular animals, the process has been adapted to eliminate debris and pathogens, as opposed to taking in fuel for cellular processes, except in the case of the animal Trichoplax.
In the immune system, phagocytosis is a major mechanism used to remove pathogens and cell debris. For example, when a macrophage ingests a pathogenic microorganism, the pathogen becomes trapped in a phagosome which then fuses with a lysosome to form a phagolysosome. Within the phagolysosome, enzymes and toxic peroxides digest the pathogen. Bacteria, dead tissue cells, and small mineral particles are all examples of objects that may be phagocytized.
Oxygen-independent degradation depends on the release of granules, containing proteolytic enzymes such as defensins, lysozyme, and cationic proteins. Other antimicrobial peptides are present in these granules, including lactoferrin, which sequesters iron to provide unfavourable growth conditions for bacteria.
Following apoptosis, the dying cells need to be taken up into the surrounding tissues by macrophages in a process called efferocytosis. One of the features of an apoptotic cell is the presentation of a variety of intracellular molecules on the cell surface, such as calreticulin, phosphatidylserine (From the inner layer of the plasma membrane), annexin A1, oxidised LDL and altered glycans. These molecules are recognised by receptors on the cell surface of the macrophage such as the phosphatidylserine receptor or by soluble (free floating) receptors such as thrombospondin 1, Gas-6, and MFG-E8, which themselves then bind to other receptors on the macrophage such as CD36 and alpha-v beta-3 integrin. Defects in apoptotic cell clearance is usually associated with impaired phagocytosis of macropghages. Accumulation of apoptotic cell remnants often causes autoimmune disorders, thus pharmacological potentiation of phagocytosis has a medical potential in treatment of certain forms of autoimmune disorders.
Trophozoites of Entamoeba histolytica with ingested erythrocytes
In many protists, phagocytosis is used as a means of feeding, providing part or all of their nourishment. This is called phagotrophic nutrition, as distinguished from osmotrophic nutrition, which takes place by absorption.
Ciliates also engage in phagocytosis. In ciliates there is a specialized groove or chamber in the cell where phagocytosis takes place, called the cytostome or mouth.
As in phagocytic immune cells, the resulting phagosome may be merged with lysosomes containing digestive enzymes, forming a phagolysosome. The food particles will then be digested, and the released nutrients are diffused or transported into the cytosol for use in other metabolic processes.