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Blood. 2011 May 12;117(19):5092-101. doi: 10.1182/blood-2010-09-306993. Epub 2011 Mar 9.

Activin A skews macrophage polarization by promoting a proinflammatory phenotype and inhibiting the acquisition of anti-inflammatory macrophage markers.

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Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC), Madrid, Spain.


M-CSF favors the generation of folate receptor β-positive (FRβ⁺), IL-10-producing, immunosuppressive, M2-polarized macrophages [M2 (M-CSF)], whereas GM-CSF promotes a proinflammatory, M1-polarized phenotype [M1 (GM-CSF)]. In the present study, we found that activin A was preferentially released by M1 (GM-CSF) macrophages, impaired the acquisition of FRβ and other M2 (M-CSF)-specific markers, down-modulated the LPS-induced release of IL-10, and mediated the tumor cell growth-inhibitory activity of M1 (GM-CSF) macrophages, in which Smad2/3 is constitutively phosphorylated. The contribution of activin A to M1 (GM-CSF) macrophage polarization was evidenced by the capacity of a blocking anti-activin A antibody to reduce M1 (GM-CSF) polarization markers expression while enhancing FRβ and other M2 (M-CSF) markers mRNA levels. Moreover, an inhibitor of activin receptor-like kinase 4/5/7 (ALK4/5/7 or SB431542) promoted M2 (M-CSF) marker expression but limited the acquisition of M1 (GM-CSF) polarization markers, suggesting a role for Smad2/3 activation in macrophage polarization. In agreement with these results, expression of activin A and M2 (M-CSF)-specific markers was oppositely regulated by tumor ascites. Therefore, activin A contributes to the proinflammatory macrophage polarization triggered by GM-CSF and limits the acquisition of the anti-inflammatory phenotype in a Smad2-dependent manner. Our results demonstrate that activin A-initiated Smad signaling skews macrophage polarization toward the acquisition of a proinflammatory phenotype.

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