During hemolysis, macrophages in the liver phagocytose damaged erythrocytes to prevent the toxic effects of cell-free hemoglobin and heme. It remains unclear how this homeostatic process modulates phagocyte functions in inflammatory diseases. Using a genetic mouse model of spherocytosis and single-cell RNA sequencing, we found that erythrophagocytosis skewed liver macrophages into an antiinflammatory phenotype that we defined as MarcohiHmoxhiMHC class IIlo erythrophagocytes. This phenotype transformation profoundly mitigated disease expression in a model of an anti-CD40–induced hyperinflammatory syndrome with necrotic hepatitis and in a nonalcoholic steatohepatitis model, representing 2 macrophage-driven sterile inflammatory diseases. We reproduced the antiinflammatory erythrophagocyte transformation in vitro by heme exposure of mouse and human macrophages, yielding a distinctive transcriptional signature that segregated heme-polarized from M1- and M2-polarized cells. Mapping transposase-accessible chromatin in single cells by sequencing defined the transcription factor NFE2L2/NRF2 as a critical driver of erythrophagocytes, and Nfe2l2/Nrf2 deficiency restored heme-suppressed inflammation. Our findings point to a pathway that regulates macrophage functions to link erythrocyte homeostasis with innate immunity.
Marc Pfefferlé, Giada Ingoglia, Christian A. Schaer, Ayla Yalamanoglu, Raphael Buzzi, Irina L. Dubach, Ge Tan, Emilio Y. López-Cano, Nadja Schulthess, Kerstin Hansen, Rok Humar, Dominik J. Schaer, Florence Vallelian