Mesenchymal cells engulf and clear apoptotic footplate cells in macrophageless PU.1 null mouse embryos

W Wood, M Turmaine, R Weber, V Camp, R A Maki, S R McKercher, P Martin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

152 Citations (Scopus)


Apoptosis is one of the key tools used by an embryo to regulate cell numbers and sculpt body shape. Although massive numbers of cells die during development, they are so rapidly phagocytosed that very few corpses are ever seen in most embryonic tissues. In this paper, we focus on the catastrophic cell death that occurs as the developing footplate is remodelled to transform webbed regions into free interdigital spaces. In the wild-type embryo, these dead cells are rapidly engulfed and cleared by macrophages. We show that in a macrophageless mouse embryo, null for the haemopoetic-lineage-specific transcription factor, PU.1, the task of phagocytosis is taken over by 'stand-in' mesenchymal neighbours in a clear example of cell redundancy. However, it takes three times as many of these mesenchymal phagocytes to complete the task and, at each stage of the clearance process - in the recognition of apoptotic debris, its engulfment and finally its digestion - they appear to be less efficient than macrophages. A molecular explanation for this may be that several of the engulfment genes expressed by macrophages, including the ABC1 transporter (believed to be part of the phagocytic machinery conserved from Caenorhabditis elegans to mouse), are not upregulated by these 'stand-in' phagocytes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5245-52
Number of pages8
JournalDevelopment (Cambridge)
Issue number24
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2000


  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Female
  • Foot
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Macrophages
  • Male
  • Mesoderm
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Phagocytes
  • Phagocytosis
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • Signal Transduction
  • Trans-Activators


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