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Exp Mol Pathol. 2001 Apr;70(2):77-82.

Functional and morphological differences between human alveolar and interstitial macrophages.

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Division of Respiratory Medicine, Department of Medicine, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden.


Macrophages play an essential role in pulmonary host defense. They are, however, a heterogeneous cell population located in different lung compartments. This study was designed to elucidate differences between two macrophage populations obtained from the human lung, i.e., alveolar macrophages (AM) and interstitial macrophages (IM). Macroscopically tumor-free lung segments from nine patients undergoing lobectomy or pulmectomy were studied. All patients had a diagnosis of primary lung cancer. AM were recovered by bronchoalveolar lavage and IM were isolated by mechanical fragmentation of the lavaged lung segments followed by enzymatic treatment. The cell fractions were analyzed with respect to morphology (transmission electron microscopy) and function (phagocytosis). The cells in the IM fraction were smaller (7.6 +/- 1.8 microm (mean +/- SD) compared with 16.0 +/- 4.1 microm) and morphologically more heterogeneous than those in the AM fraction. Interestingly, a considerable portion of the cells in the IM fraction had a typical AM-like appearance. Despite this, the AM fraction had a higher phagocytic activity compared to IM, with faster attachment and ingestion processes (P <0.001 for both). We conclude that the heterogeneity of human lung macrophages must be taken into consideration when their role in the inflammatory response is studied.

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