Macrophage AXL receptor tyrosine kinase inflames the heart after reperfused myocardial infarction

J Clin Invest. 2021 Mar 15;131(6):e139576. doi: 10.1172/JCI139576.


Tyro3, AXL, and MerTK (TAM) receptors are activated in macrophages in response to tissue injury and as such have been proposed as therapeutic targets to promote inflammation resolution during sterile wound healing, including myocardial infarction. Although the role of MerTK in cardioprotection is well characterized, the unique role of the other structurally similar TAMs, and particularly AXL, in clinically relevant models of myocardial ischemia/reperfusion infarction (IRI) is comparatively unknown. Utilizing complementary approaches, validated by flow cytometric analysis of human and murine macrophage subsets and conditional genetic loss and gain of function, we uncover a maladaptive role for myeloid AXL during IRI in the heart. Cross signaling between AXL and TLR4 in cardiac macrophages directed a switch to glycolytic metabolism and secretion of proinflammatory IL-1β, leading to increased intramyocardial inflammation, adverse ventricular remodeling, and impaired contractile function. AXL functioned independently of cardioprotective MerTK to reduce the efficacy of cardiac repair, but like MerTK, was proteolytically cleaved. Administration of a selective small molecule AXL inhibitor alone improved cardiac healing, which was further enhanced in combination with blockade of MerTK cleavage. These data support further exploration of macrophage TAM receptors as therapeutic targets for myocardial infarction.

Keywords: Cardiology; Cardiovascular disease; Inflammation; Macrophages.

Publication types

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