Open Access Research article

Human casein alpha s1 (CSN1S1) skews in vitro differentiation of monocytes towards macrophages

Stefan Vordenbäumen1*, Achim Braukmann2, Irina Altendorfer1, Ellen Bleck1, Joachim Jose2 and Matthias Schneider1

Author Affiliations

1 Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf, Department of Rheumatology, Moorenstr. 5, 40225 Düsseldorf, Germany

2 Westfälische Wilhelms-University Münster, Institute of Pharmaceutical and Medicinal Chemistry, Correnstr. 48, 48149 Münster, Germany

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BMC Immunology 2013, 14:46  doi:10.1186/1471-2172-14-46

Published: 2 October 2013



The milk-derived protein human Casein alpha s1 (CSN1S1) has recently been detected in blood cells and was shown to possess proinflammatory properties. In the present study, we investigated the effect of CSN1S1 on the differentiation of monocytes.


Primary human monocytes were stimulated with recombinant CSN1S1 and compared to cells stimulated with GM-CSF/IL-4 or M-CSF/IFNγ. Morphological changes were assessed by microscopy and quantification of surface markers of differentiation by FACS analysis. Phagocytic activity of CSN1S1 stimulated cells was measured by quantification of zymosan labeled particle uptake. The role of mitogen activated protein kinases for CSN1S1-induced differentiation of monocytes and proinflammatory cytokine expression was assessed by supplementation of specific inhibitors.


CSN1S1 at a concentration of 10 μg/ml resulted in morphological changes (irregular shape, pseudopodia) and aggregation of cells, comparable to changes observed in M-CSF/IFNγ differentiated macrophages. Surface marker expression was altered after 24 h with an upregulation of CD14 (mean 2.5 fold) and CD64 (1.9 fold) in CSN1S1 stimulated cells. CSN1S1 treated cells showed a characteristic surface marker pattern for macrophages after 120 h of incubation (CD14high, CD64high, CD83low, CD1alow) comparable to changes observed in M-CSF/IFNγ treated monocytes. Furthermore, phagocytic activity was increased 1.4 and 1.9 fold following stimulation with 10 μg/ml CSN1S1 after 24 and 48 h, respectively. Early GM-CSF, but not GM-CSF/IL-4 induced differentiation of monocytes towards dendritic cells (DC) was inhibited by addition of CSN1S1. Finally, CSN1S1 induced upregulation of CD14 was impeded by inhibition of ERK1/2, while inhibition of the mitogen activated protein kinases JNK and p38 did not influence cellular differentiation. However, JNK and p38 inhibitors impeded CSN1S1 induced secretion of the proinflammatory cytokines IL-1b or IL-6.


CSN1S1 skews in vitro differentiation of monocytes towards a macrophage-like phenotype. Data is accumulating that functions of CSN1S1 are beyond nutritional properties and include immunomodulatory effects.

Macrophage; Inflammation; Interleukin-1; Interleukin-6; Milk; Differentiation