The role of apoptotic cell clearance in a high-lipid environment
: links to ageing

  • Lois Hawkins

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Individuals within the aged population show an increased susceptibility to infection, implying a decline in immune function, a phenomenon known as immunosenescence. Paradoxically, an increase in autoimmune disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis, is also associated with ageing, therefore some aspects of the immune system appear to be inappropriately active in the elderly. The above evidence suggests inappropriate control of the immune system as we age.
Macrophages, and their precursors monocytes, play a key role in control of the immune system. They play an important role in host defence in the form of phagocytosis, and also link the innate and adaptive immune system via antigen presentation. Macrophages also have a reparative role, as professional phagocytes of dead and dying cells. Clearance of apoptotic cells by macrophages has also been shown to directly influence immune responses in an anti-inflammatory manner. Inappropriate control of macrophage function with regards to dead cell clearance may contribute to pathology as we age.
The aims of this study were to assess the impact of lipid treatment, as a model of the aged environment, on the ability of macrophages to interact with, and respond to, apoptotic cells. Using a series of in vitro cell models, responses of macrophages (normal and lipid-loaded) to apoptotic macrophages (normal and lipid-loaded) were investigated. Monocyte recruitment to apoptotic cells, a key process in resolving inflammation, was assessed in addition to cytokine responses. Data here shows, for the first time, that apoptotic macrophages (normal and lipid-loaded) induce inflammation in human monocyte-derived macrophages, a response that could drive inflammation in age-associated pathology e.g. atherosclerosis. Monoclonal antibody inhibition studies suggest the classical chemokine CX3CL1 may be involved in monocyte recruitment to apoptotic macrophages, but not apoptotic foam cells, therefore differential clearance strategies may be employed following lipid-loading. CD14, an important apoptotic cell tethering receptor, was not found to have a prominent role in this process, whilst the role for ICAM-3 remains unclear.
Additionally, a small pilot study using macrophages from young (<25) and mid-life (>40) donors was undertaken. Preliminary data was gathered to assess the ability of primary human monocyte-derived macrophages, from young and mid-life donors, to interact with, and respond to, apoptotic cells. MØ from mid-life individuals showed no significant differences in their ability to respond to immune modulation by apoptotic cells compared to MØ from young donors. Larger cohorts would be required to investigate whether immune modulation of MØ by apoptotic cells contribute to inflammatory pathology throughout ageing.
Date of Award1 May 2014
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorHelen R Griffiths (Supervisor) & Andrew Devitt (Supervisor)


  • apoptotic cell clearance
  • high-lipid environment
  • ageing

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