Functional role of intrahepatic monocyte subsets for the progression of liver inflammation and liver fibrosis in vivo

Fibrogenesis Tissue Repair. 2012 Jun 6;5(Suppl 1):S27. doi: 10.1186/1755-1536-5-S1-S27. eCollection 2012.


Sustained inflammation upon chronic liver injury induces the development of liver fibrosis in mice and men. Experimental models of liver fibrosis highlight the importance of hepatic macrophages, so-called Kupffer cells, for perpetuating inflammation by releasing proinflammatory cytokines and chemokines as well as activating hepatic stellate cells (HSC). Recent studies in mice demonstrate that these actions are only partially conducted by liver-resident macrophages, classically termed Kupffer cells, but largely depend on recruitment of monocytes into the liver. Monocytes are circulating precursors of tissue macrophages and dendritic cells (DC), which comprise two major subsets in blood, characterized by the differential expression of chemokine receptors, adhesion molecules and distinct markers, such as Ly6C/Gr1 in mice or CD14 and CD16 in humans. Upon organ injury, chemokine receptor CCR2 and its ligand MCP-1 (CCL2) as well as CCR8 and CCL1 promote monocyte subset accumulation in the liver, namely of the inflammatory Ly6C(+) (Gr1(+)) monocyte subset as precursors of tissue macrophages. The infiltration of proinflammatory monocytes into injured murine liver can be specifically blocked by novel anti-MCP-1 directed agents. In contrast, chemokine receptor CX3CR1 and its ligand fractalkine (CX3CL1) are important negative regulators of monocyte infiltration in hepatic inflammation by controlling their survival and differentiation into functionally diverse macrophage subsets. In patients with liver cirrhosis, 'non-classical' CD14(+)CD16(+) monocytes are found activated in blood as well as liver and promote pro-inflammatory along with pro-fibrogenic actions by the release of distinct cytokines and direct interactions with HSC, indicating that the findings from murine models can be translated into pathogenesis of human liver fibrosis. Moreover, experimental animal models indicate that monocytes/macrophages and DCs are not only critical for fibrosis progression, but also for fibrosis regression, because macrophages can also degrade extracellular matrix proteins and exert anti-inflammatory actions. The recently identified cellular and molecular pathways for monocyte subset recruitment, macrophage differentiation and interactions with other hepatic cell types in injured liver may therefore represent interesting novel targets for future therapeutic approaches in liver fibrosis.