Functional role of monocytes and macrophages for the inflammatory response in acute liver injury

Front Physiol. 2012 Oct 19:3:56. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2012.00056. eCollection 2012.


Different etiologies such as drug toxicity, acute viral hepatitis B, or acetaminophen poisoning can cause acute liver injury or even acute liver failure (ALF). Excessive cell death of hepatocytes in the liver is known to result in a strong hepatic inflammation. Experimental murine models of liver injury highlighted the importance of hepatic macrophages, so-called Kupffer cells, for initiating and driving this inflammatory response by releasing proinflammatory cytokines and chemokines including tumor necrosis factor (TNF), interleukin-6 (IL-6), IL-1beta, or monocyte-chemoattractant protein-1 (MCP-1, CCL2) as well as activating other non-parenchymal liver cells, e.g., endothelial or hepatic stellate cells. Many of these proinflammatory mediators can trigger hepatocytic cell death pathways, e.g., via caspase activation, but also activate protective signaling pathways, e.g., via nuclear factor kappa B (NF-κB). Recent studies in mice demonstrated that these macrophage actions largely depend on the recruitment of monocytes into the liver, namely of the inflammatory Ly6c+ (Gr1+) monocyte subset as precursors of tissue macrophages. The chemokine receptor CCR2 and its ligand MCP-1/CCL2 promote monocyte subset infiltration upon liver injury. In contrast, the chemokine receptor CX3CR1 and its ligand fractalkine (CX3CL1) are important negative regulators of monocyte infiltration by controlling their survival and differentiation into functionally diverse macrophage subsets upon injury. The recently identified cellular and molecular pathways for monocyte subset recruitment, macrophage differentiation, and interactions with other hepatic cell types in the injured liver may therefore represent interesting novel targets for future therapeutic approaches in ALF.

Keywords: CCR2; TNF-alpha; acute liver failure; chemokines; liver injury; macrophages; monocytes; review.