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Reproduction. 2008 Jan;135(1):77-87.

Gas6 and the Tyro 3 receptor tyrosine kinase subfamily regulate the phagocytic function of Sertoli cells.

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  • 1Department of Cell Biology, School of Basic Medicine, Peking Union Medical College, Institute of Chinese Basic Medical Sciences, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, 5 Dong Dan San Tiao, Beijing 100005, People's Republic of China.


The apoptotic spermatogenic cells and residual bodies are phagocytosed and degraded by Sertoli cells during spermatogenesis. The mechanisms of this process are largely unknown. Here, we demonstrate that Gas6 and its receptors, the Tyro 3 subfamily of receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs; Tyro 3, Axl, and Mer), regulate the phagocytic function of Sertoli cells. The phagocytic ability of Sertoli cells increased by five times in the presence of Gas6 in serum-free medium when compared with controls. The Sertoli cells lacking Mer showed a 35% reduction in phagocytosis of apoptotic spermatogenic cells when compared with wild-type (WT) controls, whereas the Sertoli cells lacking Tyro 3 or Axl exhibited phagocytic activity comparable with the controls. Notably, the Sertoli cells lacking all three members of the Tyro 3 RTK subfamily showed a dramatic decrease in phagocytic ability of 7.6-fold when compared with WT Sertoli cells. The deficiency in phagocytosis by the triple-mutant Sertoli cells was due to the deficit in binding of the Sertoli cells to apoptotic germ cells. These findings suggest that Mer is responsible for triggering phagocytosis of apoptotic spermatogenic cells by Sertoli cells and that Tyro 3, Axl, and Mer participate in recognizing and binding apoptotic germ cells by Sertoli cells in a redundant manner. Gas6 is a functional ligand of the Tyro 3 RTK subfamily in mediating phagocytic ability of Sertoli cells.

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