Background: Alveolar macrophages are one of the first lines of defence against invading pathogens and play a central role in modulating both the innate and acquired immune systems. By responding to endogenous stimuli within the lung, alveolar macrophages contribute towards the regulation of the local inflammatory microenvironment, the initiation of wound healing and the pathogenesis of viral and bacterial infections. Despite the availability of protocols for isolating primary alveolar macrophages from the lung these cells remain recalcitrant to expansion in-vitro and therefore surrogate cell types, such as monocyte derived macrophages and phorbol ester-differentiated cell lines (e.g. U937, THP-1, HL60) are frequently used to model macrophage function.
Methods: The availability of high throughput gene expression technologies for accurate quantification of transcript levels enables the re-evaluation of these surrogate cell types for use as cellular models of the alveolar macrophage. Utilising high-throughput TaqMan arrays and focussing on dynamically regulated families of integral membrane proteins, we explore the similarities and differences in G-protein coupled receptor (GPCR) and ion channel expression in alveolar macrophages and their widely used surrogates.
Results: The complete non-sensory GPCR and ion channel transcriptome is described for primary alveolar macrophages and macrophage surrogates. The expression of numerous GPCRs and ion channels whose expression were hitherto not described in human alveolar macrophages are compared across primary macrophages and commonly used macrophage cell models. Several membrane proteins known to have critical roles in regulating macrophage function, including CXCR6, CCR8 and TRPV4, were found to be highly expressed in macrophages but not expressed in PMA-differentiated surrogates.
Conclusions: The data described in this report provides insight into the appropriate choice of cell models for investigating macrophage biology and highlights the importance of confirming experimental data in primary alveolar macrophages.