Macrophages are becoming increasingly recognized as key cellular players in intestinal immune homeostasis. However, differentiating between macrophages and dendritic cells (DCs) is often difficult, and finding a specific phenotypic signature for intestinal macrophage identification has remained elusive. In this issue of the European Journal of Immunology, Tamoutounour et al. [Eur. J. Immunol. 2012. 42: 3150-3166] identify CD64 as a specific macrophage marker that can be used to discriminate DCs from macrophages in the murine small and large intestine, under both steady-state and inflammatory conditions. The authors also propose a sequential 'monocyte-waterfall' model for intestinal macrophage differentiation, with implications for immune tolerance and inflammation at the gut mucosal interface. This Commentary will discuss the advantages and potential limitations of CD64 as a marker for intestinal macrophages.
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