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Efferocytosis in the tumor microenvironment


Werfel TA , Cook RS , . Seminars in immunopathology. 2018 9 5; ().


Within the course of a single minute, millions of cells in the human body will undergo programmed cell death in response to physiological or pathological cues. The diminished energetic capacity of an apoptotic cell renders the cell incapable of sustaining plasma membrane integrity. Under these circumstances, intracellular contents that might leak into the surrounding tissue microenvironment, a process referred to as secondary necrosis, could induce inflammation and tissue damage. Remarkably, in most cases of physiologically rendered apoptotic cell death, inflammation is avoided because a mechanism to swiftly remove apoptotic cells from the tissue prior to their secondary necrosis becomes activated. This mechanism, referred to as efferocytosis, uses phagocytes to precisely identify and engulf neighboring apoptotic cells. In doing so, efferocytosis mantains tissue homeostasis that would otherwise be disrupted by normal cellular turnover and exacerbated further when the burden of apoptotic cells becomes elevated due to disease or insult. Efferocytosis also supports the resolution of inflammation, restoring tissue homesostasis. The importance of efferocytosis in health and disease underlies the increasing research efforts to understand the mechanisms by which efferocytosis occurs, and how a failure in the efferocytic machinery contributes to diseases, or conversely, how cancers effectively use the existing efferocytic machinery to generate a tumor-tolerant, immunosuppressive tumor microenvironment. We discuss herein the molecular mechanisms of efferocytosis, how the process of efferocytosis might support a tumor ‘wound healing’ phenotype, and efforts to target efferocytosis as an adjunct to existing tumor treatments.