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Annu Rev Physiol. 2003;65:701-34. Epub 2002 May 1.

Aminophospholipid asymmetry: A matter of life and death.

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Department of Cancer Biology, The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas 77030, USA.


Maintenance of membrane lipid asymmetry is a dynamic process that influences many events over the lifespan of the cell. With few exceptions, most cells restrict the bulk of the aminophospholipids to the inner membrane leaflet by means of specific transporters. Working in concert with each other, these proteins correct for sporadic incursions of the aminophospholipids to the outer membrane leaflet as a result of bilayer imbalances created by various cellular events. A shift in the relative contribution in each of these activities can result in sustained exposure of the aminophospholipids at the cell surface, which allows capture of the cells by phagocytes before the integrity of the plasma membrane is compromised. The absence of an efficient recognition and elimination mechanism can result in uncontrolled and persistent presentation of self-antigens to the immune system, with development of autoimmune syndromes. To prevent this, phagocytes have developed a diverse array of distinct and redundant receptor systems that drive the postphagocytic events along pathways that facilitate cross-talk between the homeostatic and the immune systems. In this work, we review the basis for the proposed mechanism(s) by which apoptotic ligands appear on the target cell surface and the phagocyte receptors that recognize these moieties.

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