Phosphatidylserine externalization by apoptotic cells is dispensable for specific recognition leading to innate apoptotic immune responses

J Biol Chem. 2022 Jul;298(7):102034. doi: 10.1016/j.jbc.2022.102034. Epub 2022 May 16.


Surface determinants newly expressed by apoptotic cells that are involved in triggering potent immunosuppressive responses, referred to as "innate apoptotic immunity (IAI)" have not been characterized fully. It is widely assumed, often implicitly, that phosphatidylserine, a phospholipid normally cloistered in the inner leaflet of cells and externalized specifically during apoptosis, is involved in triggering IAI, just as it plays an essential role in the phagocytic recognition of apoptotic cells. It is notable, however, that the triggering of IAI in responder cells is not dependent on the engulfment of apoptotic cells by those responders. Contact between the responder and the apoptotic target, on the other hand, is necessary to elicit IAI. Previously, we demonstrated that exposure of protease-sensitive determinants on the apoptotic cell surface are essential for initiating IAI responses; exposed glycolytic enzyme molecules were implicated in particular. Here, we report our analysis of the involvement of externalized phosphatidylserine in triggering IAI. To analyze the role of phosphatidylserine, we employed a panel of target cells that either externalized phosphatidylserine constitutively, independently of apoptosis, or did not, as well as their WT parental cells that externalized the phospholipid in an apoptosis-dependent manner. We found that the externalization of phosphatidylserine, which can be fully uncoupled from apoptosis, is neither sufficient nor necessary to trigger the profound immunomodulatory effects of IAI. These results reinforce the view that apoptotic immunomodulation and phagocytosis are dissociable and further underscore the significance of protein determinants localized to the cell surface during apoptosis in triggering innate apoptotic immunity.

Keywords: apoptosis; caspase-dependence; cytofluorimetry; glycolytic enzyme molecules; immunomodulation; membrane determinants; phagocytosis; phosphatidylserine.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis* / physiology
  • Cell Line
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate*
  • Immunomodulation
  • Mice
  • Phagocytosis* / physiology
  • Phosphatidylserines* / metabolism


  • Phosphatidylserines