Editors' ChoiceCell Biology

Whence the “Eat Me” Signal?

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Sci. Signal.  30 Jul 2013:
Vol. 6, Issue 286, pp. ec180
DOI: 10.1126/scisignal.2004549

Cells are surrounded by a lipid bilayer, the composition of which is asymmetrical and serves as a marker of the physiological status of the cell. The phospholipid phosphatidylserine (PtdSer) is normally found only on the inner leaflet of the membrane, but in dying cells it appears on the cell surface, thus providing the phagocytes tasked with cleaning up such cellular debris with a way to recognize cells undergoing cell death. Such movement of phospholipids within the membrane requires an elusive enzyme known as a scramblase. Suzuki et al. identified an enzyme, Xkr8, that appears to act as a scramblase that promotes exposure of PtdSer on the surface of dying mammalian cells. Consistent with such a role, Xkr8 was activated after cleavage by caspase-3, a key protease that promotes apoptotic cell death. Genetic studies with the homolog of Xkr8 expressed in Caenorhabditis elegans indicated that the protein played a similar role in tagging dead cells in the nematode worm during development.

J. Suzuki, D. P. Denning, E. Imanishi, H. R. Horvitz, S. Nagata, Xk-related protein 8 and CED-8 promote phosphatidylserine exposure in apoptotic cells. Science 341, 403–406 (2013). [Abstract] [Full Text]