Immune cells constantly survey the host for pathogens or tumors and secrete cytokines to alert surrounding cells of these threats. In vivo, activated immune cells secrete cytokines for several hours, yet an acute immune reaction occurs over days. Given these divergent timescales, we addressed how cytokine-responsive cells translate brief cytokine exposure into phenotypic changes that persist over long timescales. We studied melanoma cell responses to transient exposure to the cytokine interferon γ (IFNγ) by combining a systems-scale analysis of gene expression dynamics with computational modeling and experiments. We discovered that IFNγ is captured by phosphatidylserine (PS) on the surface of viable cells both in vitro and in vivo then slowly released to drive long-term transcription of cytokine-response genes. This mechanism introduces an additional function for PS in dynamically regulating inflammation across diverse cancer and primary cell types and has potential to usher in new immunotherapies targeting PS and inflammatory pathways.
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