TIM4 is a receptor for phosphatidylserine that mediates engulfment of apoptotic cells. Remarkably, it does not require its cytosolic or transmembrane domains to mediate phagocytosis. TIM4 associates with integrins that serve as signal-transducing coreceptors.
T-cell immunoglobulin mucin protein 4 (TIM4), a phosphatidylserine (PtdSer)-binding receptor, mediates the phagocytosis of apoptotic cells. How TIM4 exerts its function is unclear, and conflicting data have emerged. To define the mode of action of TIM4, we used two distinct but complementary approaches: 1) we compared bone marrow–derived macrophages from wild-type and TIM4 −/− mice, and 2) we heterologously expressed TIM4 in epithelioid AD293 cells, which rendered them competent for engulfment of PtdSer-bearing targets. Using these systems, we demonstrate that rather than serving merely as a tether, as proposed earlier by others, TIM4 is an active participant in the phagocytic process. Furthermore, we find that TIM4 operates independently of lactadherin, which had been proposed to act as a bridging molecule. Of interest, TIM4-driven phagocytosis depends on the activation of integrins and involves stimulation of Src-family kinases and focal adhesion kinase, as well as the localized accumulation of phosphatidylinositol 3,4,5-trisphosphate. These mediators promote recruitment of the nucleotide-exchange factor Vav3, which in turn activates small Rho-family GTPases. Gene silencing or ablation experiments demonstrated that RhoA, Rac1, and Rac2 act synergistically to drive the remodeling of actin that underlies phagocytosis. Single-particle detection experiments demonstrated that TIM4 and β1 integrins associate upon receptor clustering. These findings support a model in which TIM4 engages integrins as coreceptors to evoke the signal transduction needed to internalize PtdSer-bearing targets such as apoptotic cells.