Apoptotic cell death is a well-defined process that is controlled by intrinsic cellular mechanisms followed by the generation of apoptotic bodies and their subsequent rapid elimination through the action of phagocytic cells. Within the liver, the asialoglycoprotein receptor (ASGP-R) has been shown to be involved in the phagocytosis of apoptotic hepatocytes, as well as altered cellular endocytic events after ethanol administration. The goal of the present study was to further clarify the capacity of ASGP-R to phagocytose apoptotic cells in relationship to the damaging events that occur with alcohol consumption. For these experiments, we used an in vitro suspension assay coupled with flow cytometry to measure apoptotic cell engulfment by rat hepatocytes after chronic ethanol administration. The results of this assay indicated that the phagocytosis of apoptotic cells was decreased significandy (30% to 42%, P < .05) in the presence of antibody specific for ASGP-R as well as the introduction of competing sugars in the media. In addition, uptake of apoptotic cells was impaired by 40% to 60% (P < .05) in cells obtained from ethanol-fed animals as compared with controls. In conclusion, the ASGP-R is involved in the recognition and uptake of apoptotic cells and this process is altered significantly by ethanol treatment. These findings may play a role in a better understanding of the clinical manifestations of alcohol-induced liver injury as altered uptake of apoptotic cells via ASGP-R may result in the release of proinflammatory mediators, the introduction of autoimmune responses, and inflammatory injury to the tissue.
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