Cell death & disease

Serum-dependent processing of late apoptotic cells for enhanced efferocytosis.

PMID 24874736


Binding of the serum protein complement component C1q to the surface of dying cells facilitates their clearance by phagocytes in a process termed efferocytosis. Here, we investigate during which phase of apoptotic cell death progression C1q binding takes place. Purified C1q was found to bind to all dying cells and, albeit weaker, also to viable cells. The presence of serum abrogated completely the binding to viable cells. In addition, C1q binding to dying cells was limited to a specific subpopulation of late apoptotic/secondary necrotic cells. Co-culturing serum-treated apoptotic cells with human monocytes revealed a much higher phagocytosis of C1q-positive than of C1q-negative late apoptotic/secondary necrotic cells. But this phagocytosis-promoting activity could not be observed with purified C1q. Serum-treated C1q-positive late apoptotic/secondary necrotic cells exhibited a similar volume, a similar degraded protein composition, but a much lower DNA content in comparison with the remaining late apoptotic/secondary necrotic cells. This was mediated by a serum-bound nuclease activity that could be abrogated by G-actin, which is a specific inhibitor of serum DNase I. These results show that serum factors are involved in the prevention of C1q binding to viable cells and in the processing of late apoptotic/secondary necrotic cells promoting cell death progression toward apoptotic bodies. This process leads to the exposure of C1q-binding structures and facilitates efferocytosis.