Ligand-dependent kinase activity of MERTK drives efferocytosis in human iPSC-derived macrophages


Removal of apoptotic cells by phagocytes (also called efferocytosis) is a crucial process for tissue homeostasis. Professional phagocytes express a plethora of surface receptors enabling them to sense and engulf apoptotic cells, thus avoiding persistence of dead cells and cellular debris and their consequent effects. Dysregulation of efferocytosis is thought to lead to secondary necrosis and associated inflammation and immune activation. Efferocytosis in primarily murine macrophages and dendritic cells has been shown to require TAM RTKs, with MERTK and AXL being critical for clearance of apoptotic cells. The functional role of human orthologs, especially the exact contribution of each individual receptor is less well studied. Here we show that human macrophages differentiated in vitro from iPSC-derived precursor cells express both AXL and MERTK and engulf apoptotic cells. TAM RTK agonism by the natural ligand growth-arrest specific 6 (GAS6) significantly enhanced such efferocytosis. Using a newly-developed mouse model of kinase-dead MERTK, we demonstrate that MERTK kinase activity is essential for efferocytosis in peritoneal macrophages in vivo. Moreover, human iPSC-derived macrophages treated in vitro with blocking antibodies or small molecule inhibitors recapitulated this observation. Hence, our results highlight a conserved MERTK function between mice and humans, and the critical role of its kinase activity in homeostatic efferocytosis.

Authors Wanke F, Gutbier S, Rümmelin A, Steinberg M, Hughes LD, Koenen M, Komuczki J, Regan-Komito D, Wagage S, Hesselmann J, Thoma R, Brugger D, Christopeit T, Wang H, Point F, Hallet R, Ghosh S, Rothlin CV, Patsch C, Geering B
Journal Cell death & disease
Publication Date 2021 May 25;12(6):538
PubMed 34035216
PubMed Central PMC8149813
DOI 10.1038/s41419-021-03770-0

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