Clearance of apoptotic and necrotic cells and its immunological consequences

Apoptosis. 2006 Oct;11(10):1709-26. doi: 10.1007/s10495-006-9527-8.


The ultimate and most favorable fate of almost all dying cells is engulfment by neighboring or specialized cells. Efficient clearance of cells undergoing apoptotic death is crucial for normal tissue homeostasis and for the modulation of immune responses. Engulfment of apoptotic cells is finely regulated by a highly redundant system of receptors and bridging molecules on phagocytic cells that detect molecules specific for dying cells. Recognition of necrotic cells by phagocytes is less well understood than recognition of apoptotic cells, but an increasing number of recent studies, which are discussed here, are highlighting its importance. New observations indicate that the interaction of macrophages with dying cells initiates internalization of the apoptotic or necrotic targets, and that internalization can be preceded by "zipper"-like and macropinocytotic mechanisms, respectively. We emphasize that clearance of dying cells is an important fundamental process serving multiple functions in the regulation of normal tissue turnover and homeostasis, and is not just simple anti- or pro-inflammatory responses. Here we review recent findings on genetic pathways participating in apoptotic cell clearance, mechanisms of internalization, and molecules involved in engulfment of apoptotic versus necrotic cells, as well as their immunological consequences and relationships to disease pathogenesis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / physiology*
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate / physiology*
  • Macrophages / physiology
  • Models, Biological
  • Necrosis / metabolism*
  • Phagocytosis / physiology*
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / physiology


  • Receptors, Cell Surface
  • phosphatidylserine receptor