The chemotaxis of differentiated HL60 cells stably expressing CXCR2 was examined in a microfluidic gradient device where the steepness of the CXCL8 chemokine gradient was varied from 2 pg/ml/mum (0-1 ng/ml over a width of 500 microm) to 50 pg/ml/microm (0-25 ng/ml over 500 microm). The differentiated HL60 cells stably expressing CXCR2 exhibited little chemotaxis in response to a 0-1 ng/ml gradient, but displayed an increasing chemotactic response as the gradient steepness increased from 0 to 5, 0 to 10, and 0 to 25 ng/ml, demonstrating that steepness of gradient is a major determinant of the relative ability of cells to persistently migrate up a chemotactic gradient. When HL60 cells expressed CXCR2 mutated in the C terminus LLKIL motif (IL to AA), ligand-induced internalization of receptors was reduced 50%, whereas cell migration along the gradient of CXCL8 was completely lost. Although both mutant and wild-type receptors could mediate Akt and Erk activation in response to CXCL8, the level of activation of these two kinases was much lower in the cell line expressing the mutant receptors. These data imply that the IL amino acid residues in the LLKIL motif are very important for activation of the signal transduction cascade, which is necessary for cells to sense the chemokine gradient and respond with chemotaxis. Moreover, because mutation of the IL residues in the LLKIL motif resulted in only 50% reduction in receptor internalization, and a 50% reduction in Akt and Erk phosphorylation, but a complete loss of chemotactic response, the data imply that IL amino acid residues in the LLKIL motif are key either for amplification or oscillation of crucial signaling events or for establishment of a threshold for signals required for chemotaxis.