The mer receptor tyrosine kinase: expression and function suggest a role in innate immunity

Eur J Immunol. 2003 Aug;33(8):2160-7. doi: 10.1002/eji.200324076.


The mer receptor tyrosine kinase mediates phagocytosis of apoptotic cells and modulates cytokine production; it is also required for prevention of systemic autoimmune disease. Using a mer-specific antibody, we have confirmed the presence of mer on macrophages and now report its expression on NK cells, NKT cells, and dendritic cells (DC). We found that DC do not require mer for ingestion of apoptotic cells, as DC from mer-deficient mice phagocytose apoptotic cells normally. Mer was observed in splenic sections on cells outside follicular areas, probably representing DC and macrophages. Mer apparently participates in NKT-cell antigen-induced signaling, as NKT cells from mer-deficient mice evinced much lower cytokine production after in vivo alpha-galactosylceramide stimulation; this defect was intrinsic to the mer-deficient NKT cells. Taken together, these studies show mer expression on cells of the innate immune system. Mer, through its binding of lipid antigens, may not only mediate ingestion of apoptotic cells, but also signal events in NK cells, NKT cells, and DC.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Dendritic Cells / immunology
  • Dendritic Cells / metabolism
  • Immunity, Innate / physiology*
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Interferon-gamma / biosynthesis
  • Interleukin-4 / biosynthesis
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology
  • Killer Cells, Natural / metabolism
  • Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • Macrophages / immunology
  • Macrophages / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Phagocytosis
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins*
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / deficiency
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / genetics
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / physiology*
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / immunology
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / metabolism
  • c-Mer Tyrosine Kinase


  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • Interleukin-4
  • Interferon-gamma
  • Mertk protein, mouse
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases
  • c-Mer Tyrosine Kinase