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J Cell Biol. 2012 Apr 2;197(1):27-35. doi: 10.1083/jcb.201111053. Epub 2012 Mar 26.

Autophagy genes function sequentially to promote apoptotic cell corpse degradation in the engulfing cell.

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  • 1National Laboratory of Biomacromolecules, Institute of Biophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China.


Apoptotic cell degradation is a fundamental process for organism development, and impaired clearance causes inflammatory or autoimmune disease. Although autophagy genes were reported to be essential for exposing the engulfment signal on apoptotic cells, their roles in phagocytes for apoptotic cell removal are not well understood. In this paper, we develop live-cell imaging techniques to study apoptotic cell clearance in the Caenorhabditis elegans Q neuroblast lineage. We show that the autophagy proteins LGG-1/LC3, ATG-18, and EPG-5 were sequentially recruited to internalized apoptotic Q cells in the phagocyte. In atg-18 or epg-5 mutants, apoptotic Q cells were internalized but not properly degraded; this phenotype was fully rescued by the expression of autophagy genes in the phagocyte. Time-lapse analysis of autophagy mutants revealed that recruitment of the small guanosine triphosphatases RAB-5 and RAB-7 to the phagosome and the formation of phagolysosome were all significantly delayed. Thus, autophagy genes act within the phagocyte to promote apoptotic cell degradation.

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