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Cell Death Differ. 2007 Apr;14(4):733-42. Epub 2006 Dec 15.

After shrinkage apoptotic cells expose internal membrane-derived epitopes on their plasma membranes.

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Institute of Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology, Department of Internal Medicine 3, University of Erlangen-Nürnberg, Erlangen, Germany.

Erratum in

  • Cell Death Differ. 2008 Apr;15(4):805. Führnrohr, B [corrected to Fürnrohr, B G].


Apoptosis and phagocytosis of apoptotic cells are crucial processes. At best the phagocytic machinery detects and swallows all apoptotic cells in a way that progression to secondary necrosis is avoided. Otherwise, inflammation and autoimmune diseases may occur. Most apoptotic cells are phagocytosed instantaneously in a silent fashion; however, some dying cells escape their clearance. If the cells are not cleared early, they lose membranes due to extensive shedding of membrane surrounded vesicles (blebbing) and shrink. It is unclear how apoptotic cells compensate their massive loss of plasma membrane. Here, we demonstrate that endoplasmic reticulum- (ER) resident proteins (calnexin, the KDEL receptor and a dysfunctional immunoglobulin heavy chain) were exposed at the surfaces of shrunken late apoptotic cells. Additionally, these cells showed an increased binding of lectins, which recognize sugar structures predominantly found as moieties of incompletely processed proteins in ER and Golgi. In addition the ER resident lipophilic ER-Tracker Blue-White DPX, and internal GM1 were observed to translocate to the cell surfaces during late apoptosis. We conclude that during blebbing of apoptotic cells the surface membrane loss is substituted by immature membranes from internal stores. This mechanism explains the simultaneous appearance of preformed recognition structures for several adaptor proteins known to be involved in clearance of dead cells.

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