Tumour-associated macrophages and melanoma tumourigenesis: integrating the complexity

Int J Exp Pathol. 2006 Jun;87(3):163-76. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2613.2006.00478.x.


When the body discovers a tumour cell (foreign antigen), several kinds of mechanisms and cells operate in what is called an immune response. The latter has evolved into two mechanisms: non-specific immunity and specific immunity, which are closely linked to and influence each other. The former represents the first line of defence against neoplastic cells. The adaptive (specific) immunity is orchestrated by antigen-specific T and B lymphocytes. The effector cells of innate immunity include granulocytes, macrophages and natural killer cells. Among these cells, macrophages represent the most important part of innate immunity against tumours. Tumour-associated macrophages (TAMs) are important antigen-presenting cells and as such an understanding of their interactions with tumour cells gives insights into novel therapeutic strategies. In tumours, the effect of TAMs is the outcome of their two concomitantly competing interactions: tumour growth reduction and tumour growth promotion. The macrophage (TAMs) content of melanoma ranges from 0 to 30% and their density increases with increasing tumour thickness. The melanoma cells and TAMs seem to interact with each other through the release of soluble factors that either prevent or enhance tumour growth. For instance, syngeneic macrophages from tumour-bearing mice can inhibit melanoma growth in the nude mice more than the control macrophages. Alternatively, metastatic B16 melanoma cells can produce some macrophage cytotoxic substances that help tumour cells not only escape the host immunosurveillance system but also prevent distant metastasis. Together, these observations suggest opposing effects for these soluble factors in melanoma. To date, little is available in the literature about the interactions between TAMs and melanoma cells. This viewpoint not only tries to examine these interactions but also provides relevant speculations.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigen-Presenting Cells / immunology*
  • Antigens, Neoplasm / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Lymphocytes, Tumor-Infiltrating / immunology
  • Macrophage Activation
  • Macrophages / physiology*
  • Melanoma, Experimental / immunology*
  • Mice


  • Antigens, Neoplasm