Background: Macrophages are traditionally associated with inflammation and host defence, however a greater understanding of macrophage heterogeneity is revealing their essential roles in non-immune functions such as development, homeostasis and regeneration. In organs including the brain, kidney, mammary gland and pancreas, macrophages reside in large numbers and provide essential regulatory functions that shape organ development and maturation. However, the role of macrophages in lung development and the potential implications of macrophage modulation in the promotion of lung maturation have not yet been ascertained.
Methods: Embryonic day (E)12.5 mouse lungs were cultured as explants and macrophages associated with branching morphogenesis were visualised by wholemount immunofluorescence microscopy. Postnatal lung development and the correlation with macrophage number and phenotype were examined using Colony-stimulating factor-1 receptor-enhanced green fluorescent protein (Csf1r-EGFP) reporter mice. Structural histological examination was complemented with whole-body plethysmography assessment of postnatal lung functional maturation over time.Flow cytometry, real-time (q)PCR and immunofluorescence microscopy were performed to characterise macrophage number, phenotype and localisation in the lung during postnatal development. To assess the impact of developmental macrophage modulation, CSF-1 was administered to neonatal mice at postnatal day (P)1, 2 and 3, and lung macrophage number and phenotype were assessed at P5. EGFP transgene expression and in situ hybridisation was performed to assess CSF-1R location in the developing lung.
Results: Macrophages in embryonic lungs were abundant and densely located within branch points during branching morphogenesis. During postnatal development, structural and functional maturation of the lung was associated with an increase in lung macrophage number. In particular, the period of alveolarisation from P14-21 was associated with increased number of Csf1r-EGFP+ macrophages and upregulated expression of Arginase 1 (Arg1), Mannose receptor 1 (Mrc1) and Chemokine C-C motif ligand 17 (Ccl17), indicative of an M2 or tissue remodelling macrophage phenotype. Administration of CSF-1 to neonatal mice increased trophic macrophages during development and was associated with increased expression of the M2-associated gene Found in inflammatory zone (Fizz)1 and the growth regulator Insulin-like growth factor (Igf)1. The effects of CSF-1 were identified as macrophage-mediated, as the CSF-1R was found to be exclusively expressed on interstitial myeloid cells.
Conclusions: This study identifies the presence of CSF-1R+ M2-polarised macrophages localising to sites of branching morphogenesis and increasing in number during the alveolarisation stage of normal lung development. Improved understanding of the role of macrophages in lung developmental regulation has clinical relevance for addressing neonatal inflammatory perturbation of development and highlights macrophage modulation as a potential intervention to promote lung development.