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J Immunol Methods. 2008 May 20;334(1-2):70-81. doi: 10.1016/j.jim.2008.02.005. Epub 2008 Mar 7.

Three-colour fluorescence immunohistochemistry reveals the diversity of cells staining for macrophage markers in murine spleen and liver.

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School of Biological Sciences, and Maurice Wilkins Centre for Molecular Biodiscovery, University of Auckland, PO Box 92-019, Auckland, New Zealand.


Macrophages have traditionally been identified in murine tissues using a small range of markers, typically F4/80, CD68 and CD11b. However many studies have suggested that substantial heterogeneity exists in macrophage populations, and no single marker, nor even pair of markers, can necessarily identify all the populations. Further, many of the key monoclonal antibodies have been raised in the same species, making it difficult to combine them in histochemical studies. Here we have optimised a triple colour immunofluorescent staining protocol, utilising an anti-FITC technique, to allow antibodies to macrophage markers to be used simultaneously. We highlight the substantial heterogeneity of cells in both normal liver and spleen that stain for F4/80, CD68, CD11b, and CD11c. Using diet-induced steatohepatitis as a model of liver inflammation, we show that CD11b is expressed by newly migrating macrophage precursors, but is an unreliable marker for macrophage precursors when used alone because it is also expressed by migrating neutrophils. In healthy livers CD11c expression is a unique feature of a population of cells immediately surrounding the sinusoids. However, during hepatic inflammation CD11c can also be co-expressed by other cells, including both infiltrating cells and F4/80+ cells within the liver parenchyma. While no one marker alone is sufficient to account for all macrophage populations, we confirm that F4/80 marks the majority of the tissue-resident macrophages in both the liver and the spleen, although F4/80- populations that are positive for CD68, CD11b, or CD11c also exist. Distinguishing between tissue macrophages and dendritic cells with these markers remains problematic.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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