The efficient engulfment of apoptotic cells by professional or nonprofessional phagocytes is critical to maintain mammalian homeostasis. To identify molecules involved in the engulfment of apoptotic cells, we established a retrovirus-based expression cloning system coupled with the engulfment assay. By screening a cDNA library of a mouse macrophage cell line, we identified two small GTPase family members (RhoG and Rab5) that enhanced the engulfment of apoptotic cells. By examining other small GTPase family members, we found that Rac1 enhanced the engulfment of apoptotic cells, whereas RhoA inhibited the process. Accordingly, the expression of a dominant-negative form of RhoG or Rac1 in primary macrophage cultures severely reduced the ability of the macrophages to engulf apoptotic cells, and a dominant-negative form of RhoA enhanced the process. These results indicated that the efficient engulfment of apoptotic cells requires the concerted action of small GTPase family members. We demonstrated previously that NIH3T3 cells expressing the α vβ3 integrin efficiently engulf apoptotic cells in the presence of milk fat globule epidermal growth factor 8 via a phosphatidylserine-dependent mechanism. The dominant-negative form of RhoG or Rac1 inhibited this process, which suggested RhoG and Rac1 are also involved in the integrin-mediated engulfment.
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