Engulfing Astrocytes Protect Neurons from Contact-Induced Apoptosis following Injury


Clearing of dead cells is a fundamental process to limit tissue damage following brain injury. Engulfment has classically been believed to be performed by professional phagocytes, but recent data show that non-professional phagocytes are highly involved in the removal of cell corpses in various situations. The role of astrocytes in cell clearance following trauma has however not been studied in detail. We have found that astrocytes actively collect and engulf whole dead cells in an in vitro model of brain injury and thereby protect healthy neurons from bystander cell death. Time-lapse experiments showed that migrating neurons that come in contact with free-floating cell corpses induced apoptosis, while neurons that migrate through groups of dead cells, garnered by astrocytes, remain unaffected. Furthermore, apoptotic cells are present within astrocytes in the mouse brain following traumatic brain injury (TBI), indicating a possible role for astrocytes in engulfment of apoptotic cells in vivo. qRT-PCR analysis showed that members of both ced pathways and Megf8 are expressed in the cell culture, indicating their possible involvement in astrocytic engulfment. Moreover, addition of dead cells had a positive effect on the protein expression of MEGF10, an ortholog to CED1, known to initiate phagocytosis by binding to phosphatidylserine. Although cultured astrocytes have an immense capacity for engulfment, seemingly without adverse effects, the ingested material is stored rather than degraded. This finding might explain the multinuclear astrocytes that are found at the lesion site in patients with various brain disorders.

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0033090

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@inproceedings{Lv2012EngulfingAP, title={Engulfing Astrocytes Protect Neurons from Contact-Induced Apoptosis following Injury}, author={Camilla L{\"{o}{\"{o}v and Lars Tomas Hillered and Ted Ebendal and Anna C Erlandsson}, booktitle={PloS one}, year={2012} }