Pneumonia and inflammatory diseases of the pulmonary system such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma continue to cause significant morbidity and mortality globally. While the etiology of these diseases is highly different, they share a number of similarities in the underlying inflammatory processes driving disease pathology. Multiple recent studies have identified failures in efferocytosis—the phagocytic clearance of apoptotic cells—as a common driver of inflammation and tissue destruction in these diseases. Effective efferocytosis has been shown to be important for resolving inflammatory diseases of the lung and the subsequent restoration of normal lung function, while many pneumonia-causing pathogens manipulate the efferocytic system to enhance their growth and avoid immunity. Moreover, some treatments used to manage these patients, such as inhaled corticosteroids for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and the prevalent use of statins for cardiovascular disease, have been found to beneficially alter efferocytic activity in these patients. In this review, we provide an overview of the efferocytic process and its role in the pathophysiology and resolution of pneumonia and other inflammatory diseases of the lungs, and discuss the utility of existing and emerging therapies for modulating efferocytosis as potential treatments for these diseases.
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