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Dis Model Mech. 2018 Jul 6;11(8). pii: dmm034462. doi: 10.1242/dmm.034462.

The metabolic axis of macrophage and immune cell polarization.

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Center for Genomics and Systems Biology, Department of Biology, New York University, New York City, NY 10003, USA.
Center for Genomics and Systems Biology, Department of Biology, New York University, New York City, NY 10003, USA


The extracellular space of solid tumors ranges from being well-nurtured to being completely ischemic and can serve as a source of intratumoral heterogeneity, determining the behavior and molecular profiles of malignant and stromal cells. Here, we discuss how the metabolic tumor microenvironment modulates the phenotypes of the immune cells that infiltrate tumors, with an emphasis on tumor-associated macrophages. These cells constitute a diverse population that has pro-tumoral and anti-inflammatory properties, and are likened to anti-inflammatory 'M2' macrophages. Recent findings show how different metabolic microenvironments specify an array of phenotypic changes in macrophages. In tumors, extracellular metabolite levels vary predictably according to proximity to the vasculature, and phenotypic changes in tumor-associated macrophages and in other immune cells are also predictable. We speculate that this 'metabolic axis' of macrophage polarization modulates - and is modulated by - the response to inflammatory cues, creating a wide variety of possible phenotypic states. Understanding how extracellular metabolites influence cell phenotypes allows us to predict how tumor-associated macrophages and other tumor cells might change, with the aim of harnessing this predictability for therapy. Overall, we describe an emerging picture in which chemokines, growth factors and the metabolic tumor microenvironment act together to determine the phenotypes of tumor-infiltrating immune cells.


Cancer metabolism; Immunometabolism; Tumor microenvironment

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