Phagocytosis by non-professional phagocytes

Radiation Oncology

Head of Department:
Prof. Dr. med. Rainer Fietkau

Working Group non-professional phagocytosis

AG non-professional phagocytes: Theresa Rüttinger, Dorian Gottwald, Hannah Schenker, Luitpold Distel, Jacob Seeberg

The "non-professional phagocytosis" research group is investigating whether different tumour and normal tissue cells are able to phagocytise and what mechanism is involved.

Non-professional phagocytes

The elimination of damaged or dying cells is very important to protect the surrounding cells or the organism from damage. Phagocytosis is a mechanism to eliminate such cells. A less known phenomenon is phagocytosis by non-professional phagocytes. These are cells that do not belong to the inflammatory cells but can still phagocytise. These events have sometimes been described in tumours. In 2007 M. Overholtzer described in a groundbreaking paper the penetration of cells into other cells with a subsequential elimination of the cells and called the mechanism Entosis (1). We could describe the reverse mechanism, that necrotic cells are phagocytized by living cells and then eliminated (2). We use the neutral term of the cell-in-cell (CIC) phenomenon. We have shown that CIC has an important prognostic significance that may be more significant than apoptosis (3).

Non-professional phagocytosis in tissue

Fluorescence staining of a tissue of a head and neck tumor. Stains: Green = membrane protein E-cadherin; Blue = staining of nuclei; Red = cells dying by apoptosis Cleaved Caspase 3

Publications on the topic:


Overholtzer M, Mailleux AA, Mouneimne G, Normand G, Schnitt SJ, King RW, Cibas ES, and Brugge JS. (2007) A non-apoptotic cell death process, entosis, that occurs by cell-in-cell invasion. Cell. Nov 30;131(5):966-79.

Schwegler M, Wirsing AM, Dollinger AJ, Abendroth B, Putz F, Fietkau R, Distel LV. (2015) Clearance of primary necrotic cells by non-professional phagocytes. Biol Cell. (2015) 107; 372-87. doi: 10.1111/boc.201400090

Schwegler M, Wirsing AM, Schenker HM, Ott L, Ries JM, Büttner-Herold M, Fietkau R, Putz F, Distel LV. Prognostic Value of Homotypic Cell Internalization by Nonprofessional Phagocytic Cancer Cells. Biomed Res Int. (2015) 359392. doi: 10.1155/2015/359392.

Hannah Schenker; Maike Büttner-Herold; Rainer Fietkau; Luitpold V. Distel. Cell-in-Cell Structures are more potent Predictors of Outcome than Senescence or Apoptosis in Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinomas. Radiation Oncology (2016) 1-9 doi 10.1186/s13014-016-0746-z

Seeberg JC, Loibl M, Moser F, Schwegler M, Buttner-Herold M, Daniel C, Engel FB, Hartmann A, Schlotzer-Schrehardt U, Goppelt-Struebe M, Schellerer V, Naschberger E, Ganzleben I, Heinzerling L, Fietkau R, Distel LV. Non-professional phagocytosis: a general feature of normal tissue cells. SCIENTIFIC REPORTS (2019) 9 doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-48370-3


Dorian Gottwald, Florian Putz, Nora Hohmann, Maike Büttner-Herold, Markus Hecht, Rainer Fietkau and Luitpold Distel. Role of tumor cell senescence in nonprofessional phagocytosis and cell-in-cell structure formation. BMC Molecular and Cell Biology (2020) 21:79

Alexander Hofmann, Florian Putz, Maike Büttner-Herold, Markus Hecht, Rainer Fietkau, Luitpold V. Distel. Increase in non-professional phagocytosis during the progression of cell cycle. PLOS ONE | February 5, 2021


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