Being Eaten Alive: How Energy-Deprived Cells Are Disposed of, Mediated by C-Reactive Protein—Including a Treatment Option
In medicine, C-reactive protein (CRP) has become established primarily as a biomarker, predicting patient prognosis in many indications. Recently, however, there has been mounting evidence that it causes inflammatory injury. As early as 1999, CRP was shown to induce cell death after acute myocardial infarction (AMI) in rats and this was found to be dependent on complement. The pathological effect of CRP was subsequently confirmed in further animal species such as rabbit, mouse and pig. A conceptual gap was recently closed when it was demonstrated that ischemia in AMI or ischemia/hypoxia in the severe course of COVID-19 causes a drastic lack of energy in involved cells, resulting in an apoptotic presentation because these cells cannot repair/flip-flop altered lipids. The deprivation of energy leads to extensive expression on the cell membranes of the CRP ligand lysophosphatidylcholine. Upon attachment of CRP to this ligand, the classical complement pathway is triggered leading to the swift elimination of viable cells with the appearance of an apoptotic cell by phagocytes. They are being eaten alive. This, consequently, results in substantial fibrotic remodeling within the involved tissue. Inhibiting this pathomechanism via CRP-targeting therapy has been shown to be beneficial in different indications.