Cardiac myofibroblast engulfment of dead cells facilitates recovery after myocardial infarction

J Clin Invest. 2017 Jan 3;127(1):383-401. doi: 10.1172/JCI83822. Epub 2016 Dec 5.


Myocardial infarction (MI) results in the generation of dead cells in the infarcted area. These cells are swiftly removed by phagocytes to minimize inflammation and limit expansion of the damaged area. However, the types of cells and molecules responsible for the engulfment of dead cells in the infarcted area remain largely unknown. In this study, we demonstrated that cardiac myofibroblasts, which execute tissue fibrosis by producing extracellular matrix proteins, efficiently engulf dead cells. Furthermore, we identified a population of cardiac myofibroblasts that appears in the heart after MI in humans and mice. We found that these cardiac myofibroblasts secrete milk fat globule-epidermal growth factor 8 (MFG-E8), which promotes apoptotic engulfment, and determined that serum response factor is important for MFG-E8 production in myofibroblasts. Following MFG-E8-mediated engulfment of apoptotic cells, myofibroblasts acquired antiinflammatory properties. MFG-E8 deficiency in mice led to the accumulation of unengulfed dead cells after MI, resulting in exacerbated inflammatory responses and a substantial decrease in survival. Moreover, MFG-E8 administration into infarcted hearts restored cardiac function and morphology. MFG-E8-producing myofibroblasts mainly originated from resident cardiac fibroblasts and cells that underwent endothelial-mesenchymal transition in the heart. Together, our results reveal previously unrecognized roles of myofibroblasts in regulating apoptotic engulfment and a fundamental importance of these cells in recovery from MI.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigens, Surface / genetics
  • Antigens, Surface / metabolism*
  • Apoptosis*
  • Cell Survival / genetics
  • Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Milk Proteins / genetics
  • Milk Proteins / metabolism*
  • Myocardial Infarction / genetics
  • Myocardial Infarction / metabolism*
  • Myocardial Infarction / pathology
  • Myocardium / metabolism*
  • Myocardium / pathology
  • Myofibroblasts / metabolism*
  • Myofibroblasts / pathology


  • Antigens, Surface
  • Mfge8 protein, mouse
  • Milk Proteins