Quantification of Efferocytosis by Single-cell Fluorescence Microscopy

J Vis Exp. 2018 Aug 18;(138):58149. doi: 10.3791/58149.


Studying the regulation of efferocytosis requires methods that are able to accurately quantify the uptake of apoptotic cells and to probe the signaling and cellular processes that control efferocytosis. This quantification can be difficult to perform as apoptotic cells are often efferocytosed piecemeal, thus necessitating methods which can accurately delineate between the efferocytosed portion of an apoptotic target versus residual unengulfed cellular fragments. The approach outlined herein utilizes dual-labeling approaches to accurately quantify the dynamics of efferocytosis and efferocytic capacity of efferocytes such as macrophages. The cytosol of the apoptotic cell is labeled with a cell-tracking dye to enable monitoring of all apoptotic cell-derived materials, while surface biotinylation of the apoptotic cell allows for differentiation between internalized and non-internalized apoptotic cell fractions. The efferocytic capacity of efferocytes is determined by taking fluorescent images of live or fixed cells and quantifying the amount of bound versus internalized targets, as differentiated by streptavidin staining. This approach offers several advantages over methods such as flow cytometry, namely the accurate delineation of non-efferocytosed versus efferocytosed apoptotic cell fractions, the ability to measure efferocytic dynamics by live-cell microscopy, and the capacity to perform studies of cellular signaling in cells expressing fluorescently-labeled transgenes. Combined, the methods outlined in this protocol serve as the basis for a flexible experimental approach that can be used to accurately quantify efferocytic activity and interrogate cellular signaling pathways active during efferocytosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Video-Audio Media

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Humans
  • Macrophages / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence / methods*
  • Phagocytosis / physiology*