The clearance of apoptotic cells is important to maintain tissue homeostasis. The engulfment of apoptotic cells is performed by professional phagocytes, such as macrophages, and also by non-professional phagocytes, such as mesenchymal cells. Here, we show that vimentin, a cytoskeletal protein, functions as an engulfment receptor on neighboring phagocytes, which recognize O-linked-N-acetylglucosamine (O-GlcNAc)-modified proteins from apoptotic cells as "eat me" ligands. Previously, we reported that vimentin possesses a GlcNAc-binding lectin-like property on cell surface. However, the physiological relevance of the surface localization and GlcNAc-binding property of vimentin remained unclear. In the present study, we observed that O-GlcNAc proteins from apoptotic cells interacted with the surface vimentin of neighboring phagocytes and that this interaction induced serine 71-phosphorylation and recruitment of vimentin to the cell surface of the neighboring phagocytes. Moreover, tetrameric vimentin that was disassembled by serine 71-phosphorylation possessed a GlcNAc-binding activity and was localized to the cell surface. We demonstrated our findings in vimentin-expressing common cell lines such as HeLa cells. Furthermore, during normal developmental processes, the phagocytic engulfment and clearance of apoptotic footplate cells in mouse embryos was mediated by the interaction of surface vimentin with O-GlcNAc proteins. Our results suggest a common mechanism for the clearance of apoptotic cells, through the interaction of surface vimentin with O-GlcNAc-modified proteins.
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