Efferocytosis of dying cells differentially modulate immunological outcomes in tumor microenvironment

Immunol Rev. 2017 Nov;280(1):149-164. doi: 10.1111/imr.12587.


Programmed cell death (apoptosis) is an integral part of tissue homeostasis in complex organisms, allowing for tissue turnover, repair, and renewal while simultaneously inhibiting the release of self antigens and danger signals from apoptotic cell-derived constituents that can result in immune activation, inflammation, and autoimmunity. Unlike cells in culture, the physiological fate of cells that die by apoptosis in vivo is their rapid recognition and engulfment by phagocytic cells (a process called efferocytosis). To this end, apoptotic cells express specific eat-me signals, such as externalized phosphatidylserine (PS), that are recognized in a specific context by receptors to initiate signaling pathways for engulfment. The importance of carefully regulated recognition and clearance pathways is evident in the spectrum of inflammatory and autoimmune disorders caused by defects in PS receptors and signaling molecules. However, in recent years, several additional cell death pathways have emerged, including immunogenic cell death, necroptosis, pyroptosis, and netosis that interweave different cell death pathways with distinct innate and adaptive responses from classical apoptosis that can shape long-term host immunity. In this review, we discuss the role of different cell death pathways in terms of their immune potential outcomes specifically resulting in specific cell corpse/phagocyte interactions (phagocytic synapses) that impinge on host immunity, with a main emphasis on tolerance and cancer immunotherapy.

Keywords: cell death; immunogenic cell death; phosphatidylserine; tolerance; tumor immunity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Humans
  • Immune Tolerance
  • Immunity*
  • Phagocytes / immunology*
  • Phagocytosis*
  • Phosphatidylserines / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction
  • Tumor Microenvironment


  • Phosphatidylserines