Apoptosis is a cellular suicide process that quietly and efficiently eliminates unwanted or damaged cells. In metazoans, cells that undergo apoptosis are swiftly internalized by phagocytes and subsequently degraded inside phagosomes through phagosome maturation, a process that involves the fusion between phagosomes and multiple kinds of intracellular organelles and the gradual acidification of phagosomal lumen. In recent years, rapid progress has been made, in particular, through studies conducted in the model organism, the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, in understanding the membrane trafficking events and molecular mechanisms that govern the degradation of apoptotic cells through phagosome maturation. These studies revealed the novel and essential functions of a large number of proteins, including the large GTPase dynamin, multiple Rab small GTPases and their regulatory proteins, the lipid second messenger PtdIns(3)P and its effectors, and unexpectedly, the phagosomal receptors for apoptotic cells, in promoting phagosome maturation. Further, novel signaling pathways essential for phagosome maturation have been delineated. Here, we discuss these exciting new findings, which have significantly deepened and broadened our understanding of the mechanisms that regulate the interaction between intracellular organelles and phagosomes.
Copyright © 2012 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.