Apoptosis or programmed cell death plays a key role in morphogenesis during early development as well as in the maintenance of tissue homeostasis in adult organisms. The mechanisms of apoptosis have been intensely studied, and the early stages of the cell death pathway are defined in considerable detail. However, the fates of dying cells, once death programs are engaged, remain to be fully characterized and their implications for human disease are poorly understood. This Gordon Research Conference and accompanying Gordon Research Seminar on Apoptotic Cell Recognition &Clearance, to be held from July 16-22, 2011 at Bates College, Maine will deal with this issue. In multicellular organisms, cells undergoing programmed cell death are removed through phagocytosis, a biological event in which cells take up and digest other cells. The engulfement and clearance of dying cells is closely linked with cell death itself, and in many cases occurs before the cell death program is complete and can even influence the process. It is therefore arguable that the removal of cells through phagocytosis is the ultimate objective of apoptosis. Phagocytic removal of apoptotic cells is essential for morphogenesis to sculpt organs, renewal by removing aged or spent cells and prevention of disease by clearing pathogen-infected or harmful cells. Recent studies have revealed an additional role for engulfed apoptotic cells in the immune system. Phagocytes that have engulfed apoptotic cells regulate inflammation and promote resolution and tissue repair. In addition, apoptotic cells provide an important source of antigen to the acquired immune system during homeostasis and infection. Failure to promptly clear apoptotic cells can lead to the development of chronic inflammatory disorders, autoimmune diseases, neurodegeneration and cancer. It is therefore important to elucidate the mechanism of apoptotic cell clearance not only for increasing our fundamental knowledge of this process, but also for our understanding of the causes of inflammatory and immune diseases, and the development of potential medical applications. This Gordon Research conference, held every other year, is the only regular international meeting in the field of apoptotic cell recognition and clearance. This will be the fifth meeting in the series, following meetings every other year since 2003. The conference attracts researchers from a wide area of research including biochemistry, cell, developmental and structural biology, neurology, immunology, and pharmacology, and is aimed at explaining basic concepts as well as clinical implications. Previous meetings have been successful, with high attendance and positive evaluations, and have hosted important discussions on this topic which have promoted new paradigms, collaborations and advances. However, there remain important fundamental questions still to be solved, and this area of research has rapidly grown as the wider implications of recognition of dead cells and their potential for medical applications have been uncovered.
Cells that have become harmful to our health, such as virus-infected cells and tumors, are often induced to undergo cell death and become susceptible to removal by immune cells. This process can be manipulated clinically to promote tissue repair or for immunization;however, defects in recognition and removal of dead cells contribute to inflammatory disease and autoimmune disorders. This proposed Gordon Research Conference on Apoptotic Cell Recognition &Clearance will discuss these topics and should lead to medical advances in understanding and treatring a wide range of serious diseases.