CD47 functions as a molecular switch for erythrocyte phagocytosis

Patrick Burger, Petra Hilarius-Stokman, Dirk de Korte, Timo K van den Berg, Robin van Bruggen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

226 Citations (Scopus)


CD47 on erythrocytes inhibits phagocytosis through interaction with the inhibitory immunoreceptor SIRPα expressed by macrophages. Thus, the CD47-SIRPα interaction constitutes a negative signal for erythrocyte phagocytosis. However, we report here that CD47 does not only function as a "do not eat me" signal for uptake but can also act as an "eat me" signal. In particular, a subset of old erythrocytes present in whole blood was shown to bind and to be phagocytosed via CD47-SIRPα interactions. Furthermore, we provide evidence that experimental aging of erythrocytes induces a conformational change in CD47 that switches the molecule from an inhibitory signal into an activating one. Preincubation of experimentally aged erythrocytes with human serum before the binding assay was required for this activation. We also demonstrate that aged erythrocytes have the capacity to bind the CD47-binding partner thrombospondin-1 (TSP-1) and that treatment of aged erythrocytes with a TSP-1-derived peptide enabled their phagocytosis by human red pulp macrophages. Finally, CD47 on erythrocytes that had been stored for prolonged time was shown to undergo a conformational change and bind TSP-1. These findings reveal a more complex role for CD47-SIRPα interactions in erythrocyte phagocytosis, with CD47 acting as a molecular switch for controlling erythrocyte phagocytosis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5512-21
Number of pages10
Issue number23
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jun 2012


  • Animals
  • Antigens, Differentiation/genetics
  • CD47 Antigen/chemistry
  • CHO Cells
  • Cricetinae
  • Erythrocyte Aging
  • Erythrocytes/cytology
  • Humans
  • Macrophages/cytology
  • Oligopeptides/immunology
  • Phagocytosis
  • Protein Conformation
  • Receptors, Immunologic/genetics
  • Transfection

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