, Volume 15, Issue 9, pp 1124–1136

Mechanisms of failed apoptotic cell clearance by phagocyte subsets in cardiovascular disease

Apoptosis in the Aging Brain

DOI: 10.1007/s10495-010-0516-6

Cite this article as:
Thorp, E.B. Apoptosis (2010) 15: 1124. doi:10.1007/s10495-010-0516-6


Recent evidence in humans indicate that defective phagocytic clearance of dying cells is linked to progression of advanced atherosclerotic lesions, the precursor to atherothrombosis, ischemic heart disease, and leading cause of death in the industrialized world. During atherogenesis, apoptotic cell turnover in the vascular wall is counterbalanced by neighboring phagocytes with high clearance efficiency, thereby limiting cellularity and maintaining lesion integrity. However, as lesions mature, phagocytic removal of apoptotic cells (efferocytosis) becomes defective, leading to secondary necrosis, expansion of plaque necrotic cores, and susceptibility to rupture. Recent genetic causation studies in experimental rodents have implicated key molecular regulators of efferocytosis in atherosclerotic progression. These include MER tyrosine kinase (MERTK), milk fat globule-EGF factor 8 (MFGE8), and complement C1q. At the cellular level, atheromata are infiltrated by a heterogenous population of professional phagocytes, comprised of monocytes, differentiated macrophages, and CD11c+ dendritic-like cells. Each cell type is characterized by disparate clearance efficiencies and varying activities of key phagocytic signaling molecules. It is in this context that we outline a working model whereby plaque necrosis and destabilization is jointly promoted by (1) direct inhibition of core phagocytic signaling pathways and (2) expansion of phagocyte subsets with poor clearance capacity. Towards identifying targets for promoting efficient apoptotic cell clearance and resolving inflammation in atherosclerosis and during ischemic heart disease and post myocardial infarction, this review will discuss potential in vivo suppressors of efferocytosis at each stage of clearance and how these putative interventional targets may differentially affect uptake at the level of vascular phagocyte subsets.


Cardiovascular disease Efferocytosis Phagocytosis MERTK Secondary necrosis 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Medicine, Division of Molecular MedicineColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA

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