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J Immunol. 2005 Jul 1;175(1):342-9.

Macrophages sequentially change their functional phenotype in response to changes in microenvironmental influences.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Louisville School of Medicine, Health Sciences Center, Louisville, KY 40292, USA.


Recent studies have described the development of distinct functional subsets of macrophages in association with cancer, autoimmune disease, and chronic infections. Based on the ability of Th1 vs Th2 cytokines to promote opposing activities in macrophages, it has been proposed that macrophages develop into either type 1 inflammatory or type 2 anti-inflammatory subsets. As an alternative to the concept of subset development, we propose that macrophages, in response to changes in their tissue environment, can reversibly and progressively change the pattern of functions that they express. As demonstrated herein, macrophages can reversibly shift their functional phenotype through a multitude of patterns in response to changes in cytokine environment. Macrophages display distinct functional patterns after treatment with IFN-gamma, IL-12, IL-4, or IL-10 and additional functional patterns are displayed depending on whether the cytokine is present alone or with other cytokines and whether the cytokines are added before or concomitantly with the activating stimulus (LPS). Sequential treatment of macrophages with multiple cytokines results in a progression through multiple functional phenotypes. This ability to adapt to changing cytokine environments has significant in vivo relevance, as evidenced by the demonstration that macrophage functional phenotypes established in vivo in aged or tumor-bearing mice can be altered by changing their microenvironment. A concept of functional adaptivity is proposed that has important implications for therapeutic targeting of macrophages in chronic diseases that result in the dominance of particular functional phenotypes of macrophages that play a significant role in disease pathology.

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