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J Innate Immun. 2014;6(6):716-26. doi: 10.1159/000364945. Epub 2014 Aug 13.

M1 and M2 macrophages: the chicken and the egg of immunity.

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BioMedical Consultants, Marine on St. Croix, Minn., USA.


The purpose of this perspective is to describe a critical advance in understanding how immune responses work. Macrophages are required for all animal life: 'Inhibit' type macrophages in all animals (called M1) can rapidly kill pathogens, and are thus the primary host defense, and 'Heal' type macrophages (M2) routinely repair and maintain tissue integrity. Macrophages perform these activities in all animals without T cells, and also in T cell-deficient vertebrates. Although adaptive immunity can amplify macrophage polarization, the long-held notion that macrophages need to be 'activated' or 'alternatively activated' by T cells is incorrect; indeed, immunology has had it backward. M1/M2-type macrophages necessarily direct T cells toward Th1- or Th2-like activities, respectively. That such macrophage-innate activities are the central directing element in immune responses is a dramatic change in understanding how immune systems operate. Most important, this revelation is opening up whole new approaches to immunotherapy. For example, many modern diseases, such as cancer and atherosclerosis, may not display 'foreign' antigens. However, there are clear imbalances in M1/M2-type responses. Correcting such innate imbalances can result in better health. Macrophages are the chicken and the egg of immunity.

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