Phosphatidylserine Exposure Controls Viral Innate Immune Responses by Microglia

Neuron. 2017 Feb 8;93(3):574-586.e8. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2016.12.021. Epub 2017 Jan 19.


Microglia are the intrinsic immune sentinels of the central nervous system. Their activation restricts tissue injury and pathogen spread, but in some settings, including viral infection, this response can contribute to cell death and disease. Identifying mechanisms that control microglial responses is therefore an important objective. Using replication-incompetent adenovirus 5 (Ad5)-based vectors as a model, we investigated the mechanisms through which microglia recognize and respond to viral uptake. Transgenic, immunohistochemical, molecular-genetic, and fluorescence imaging approaches revealed that phosphatidylserine (PtdSer) exposure on the outer leaflet of transduced cells triggers their engulfment by microglia through TAM receptor-dependent mechanisms. We show that inhibition of phospholipid scramblase 1 (PLSCR1) activity reduces intracellular calcium dysregulation, prevents PtdSer externalization, and enables months-long protection of vector-transduced, transgene-expressing cells from microglial phagocytosis. Our study identifies PLSCR1 as a potent target through which the innate immune response to viral vectors, and potentially other stimuli, may be controlled.

Keywords: TAM receptor; adenovirus; astrocytes; calcium; infection; microglia; phagocytosis; phosphatidylserine; phospholipid scramblase 1; two-photon imaging.

MeSH terms

  • Adenoviridae / immunology*
  • Adenoviridae Infections / immunology*
  • Animals
  • Gene Knockdown Techniques
  • Genetic Vectors / immunology*
  • Immunity, Innate / immunology*
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Microglia / immunology*
  • Neurons / immunology*
  • Neurons / virology
  • Optical Imaging
  • Phagocytosis / immunology*
  • Phosphatidylserines / immunology*
  • Phospholipid Transfer Proteins / genetics
  • Phospholipid Transfer Proteins / immunology*


  • Phosphatidylserines
  • Phospholipid Transfer Proteins
  • Plscr1 protein, mouse