Tim4- and MerTK-mediated engulfment of apoptotic cells by mouse resident peritoneal macrophages

Mol Cell Biol. 2014 Apr;34(8):1512-20. doi: 10.1128/MCB.01394-13. Epub 2014 Feb 10.


Apoptotic cells are swiftly engulfed by macrophages to prevent the release of noxious materials from dying cells. Apoptotic cells expose phosphatidylserine (PtdSer) on their surface, and macrophages engulf them by recognizing PtdSer using specific receptors and opsonins. Here, we found that mouse resident peritoneal macrophages expressing Tim4 and MerTK are highly efficient at engulfing apoptotic cells. Neutralizing antibodies against either Tim4 or MerTK inhibited the macrophage engulfment of apoptotic cells. Tim4-null macrophages exhibited reduced binding and engulfment of apoptotic cells, whereas MerTK-null macrophages retained the ability to bind apoptotic cells but failed to engulf them. The incubation of wild-type peritoneal macrophages with apoptotic cells induced the rapid tyrosine phosphorylation of MerTK, which was not observed with Tim4-null macrophages. When mouse Ba/F3 cells were transformed with Tim4, apoptotic cells bound to the transformants but were not engulfed. Transformation of Ba/F3 cells with MerTK had no effect on the binding or engulfment of apoptotic cells; however, Tim4/MerTK transformants exhibited strong engulfment activity. Taken together, these results indicate that the engulfment of apoptotic cells by resident peritoneal macrophages proceeds in two steps: binding to Tim4, a PtdSer receptor, followed by MerTK-mediated cell engulfment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / physiology*
  • Cell Line
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Macrophages, Peritoneal / cytology
  • Macrophages, Peritoneal / immunology*
  • Macrophages, Peritoneal / metabolism
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Phagocytosis / immunology
  • Phosphatidylserines / immunology
  • Phosphatidylserines / metabolism
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / metabolism*
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / metabolism
  • c-Mer Tyrosine Kinase


  • Membrane Proteins
  • Phosphatidylserines
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • Receptors, Cell Surface
  • TIM-4 protein, mouse
  • phosphatidylserine receptor
  • Mertk protein, mouse
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases
  • c-Mer Tyrosine Kinase