Macrophage Cannibalism – a Double-Edged Sword

Macrophage Cannibalism – a Double-Edged Sword

Macrophages are essential players in innate immunity and in tissue homeostasis. Their primary function is phagocytosis, by which they eliminate pathogens, components of dying cells, etc. Another macrophage function, which is far less characterised, is efferocytosis, where macrophages phagocytose apoptotic cells. Sometimes macrophages will phagocytose apoptotic macrophages, a process we call “cannibalistic efferocytosis”. By doing so, the “predators” consume their “prey” with all its content.

The Greaves group has collaborated with colleagues from the Department of Zoology and the Mathematical Institute in Oxford, as well as from the School of Mathematics and Statistics from the University of Sydney to better understand cannibalistic efferocytosis. They established a mathematical model and calculated that indeed if a latex bead is present in the “prey”, it would be passed to its “predator”, which will be consumed by another “predator”, etc, until many latex beads would ultimately be concentrated in very few cells. Using sophisticated image analysis software, the Dunn School researchers demonstrated that the model accurately describes macrophage biology. This is an important step in our understanding the role of macrophages in tissue inflammation.

Shaked Ashkanazi

Ford HZ, Zeboudj L, Purvis GSD, Ten Bokum A, Zarebski AE, Bull JA, Byrne HM, Myerscough MR, Greaves DR.

Proc Biol Sci.286(1904):20190730. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2019.0730.