Apoptosis of bronchial epithelial cells and the phagocytic clearance of these cells by alveolar macrophages (a process termed efferocytosis) are integral processes leading to repair of airway epithelial injury. Efferocytosis allows for the removal of apoptotic material with minimal inflammation and prevents the development of secondary necrosis and ongoing inflammation. Defective efferocytosis and the increased presence of apoptotic cells have been identified in the airways of subjects with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). There are three major potential causes for this accumulation of apoptotic cells: (i) increased apoptosis per se as a result of an increase in apoptotic mediators, (ii) defects in the recognition of apoptotic cells by AM and (iii) failure to clear the unwanted cells by the process of efferocytosis. The implications of these processes in COPD and novel treatment strategies aimed at improving clearance of apoptotic cells form the focus of the present review.
Keywords: Alveolar macrophage, apoptosis, collectin, COPD, efferocytosis, phagocytosis, tobacco smoke, protease, granzyme, perforin, oxidative stress, Mannose receptor
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