The C-Terminal Acidic Region of Calreticulin Mediates Phosphatidylserine Binding and Apoptotic Cell Phagocytosis

J Immunol. 2016 May 1;196(9):3896-3909. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.1502122. Epub 2016 Apr 1.


Calreticulin is a calcium-binding chaperone that is normally localized in the endoplasmic reticulum. Calreticulin is detectable on the surface of apoptotic cells under some apoptosis-inducing conditions, where it promotes the phagocytosis and immunogenicity of dying cells. However, the precise mechanism by which calreticulin, a soluble protein, localizes to the outer surface of the plasma membrane of dying cells is unknown, as are the molecular mechanisms that are relevant to calreticulin-induced cellular phagocytosis. Calreticulin comprises three distinct structural domains: a globular domain, an extended arm-like P-domain, and a C-terminal acidic region containing multiple low-affinity calcium binding sites. We show that calreticulin, via its C-terminal acidic region, preferentially interacts with phosphatidylserine (PS) compared with other phospholipids and that this interaction is calcium dependent. Additionally, exogenous calreticulin binds apoptotic cells via a higher-affinity calcium-dependent mode that is acidic region dependent. Exogenous calreticulin also binds live cells, including macrophages, via a second, lower-affinity P-domain and globular domain-dependent, but calcium-independent binding mode that likely involves its generic polypeptide binding site. Truncation constructs lacking the acidic region or arm-like P-domain of calreticulin are impaired in their abilities to induce apoptotic cell phagocytosis by murine peritoneal macrophages. Taken together, the results of this investigation provide the first molecular insights into the phospholipid binding site of calreticulin as a key anchor point for the cell surface expression of calreticulin on apoptotic cells. These findings also support a role for calreticulin as a PS-bridging molecule that cooperates with other PS-binding factors to promote the phagocytosis of apoptotic cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Calreticulin / metabolism*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cytophagocytosis*
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Macrophages, Peritoneal / immunology*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Inbred DBA
  • Peptide Fragments / metabolism*
  • Phosphatidylserines / metabolism*
  • Protein Binding


  • Calreticulin
  • Peptide Fragments
  • Phosphatidylserines