Annexin I is an endogenous ligand that mediates apoptotic cell engulfment.
Engulfment of apoptotic cells requires presentation of new cell surface ligands by the dying cells. Using a differential proteomics technology, we identify that annexin I is a caspase-dependent engulfment ligand; it is recruited from the cytosol and exported to the outer plasma membrane leaflet, colocalizes with phosphatidylserine, and is required for efficient clearance of apoptotic cells. Furthermore, phosphatidylserine receptor (PSR) clustering around apoptotic cells indicates a requirement for annexin I. In the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, downregulation of the annexin homolog prevents efficient engulfment of pharyngeal cell corpses. These results provide novel mechanistic insights into how apoptotic cells are removed and may explain a pathogenic mechanism of chronic inflammatory diseases where annexin I autoantibodies have been described.