Tumor-associated macrophages: functional diversity, clinical significance, and open questions

Semin Immunopathol. 2013 Sep;35(5):585-600. doi: 10.1007/s00281-013-0367-7. Epub 2013 May 9.


Inflammation is now a well-recognized hallmark of cancer progression. Tumor-associated macrophages (TAMs) are one of the major inflammatory cells that infiltrate murine and human tumors. While epidemiological studies indicate a clear correlation between TAM density and poor prognosis in a number of human cancers, transgenic studies and transcriptome profiling of TAMs in mice have established their crucial role in cancer progression. In fact, TAMs affect diverse aspects of cancer progression including tumor cell growth and survival, invasion, metastasis, angiogenesis, inflammation, and immunoregulation. New evidences have extended the repertoire of these cells to other tumor promoting activities like interactions with cancer stem cells, response to chemotherapy, and tumor relapse. These findings have triggered efforts to target TAMs and their associated molecules to modulate tumor progression. In particular, "re-education" to activate their anti-tumor potential or elimination of tumor promoting TAMs are strategies undergoing preclinical and clinical evaluation. Proof-of-principle studies indicate that TAM-centered therapeutic strategies may contribute to cancer therapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cytokines / immunology
  • Disease Progression
  • Genetic Variation / immunology
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / immunology*
  • Macrophage Activation / immunology
  • Macrophages / immunology*
  • Mice
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms / immunology*


  • Cytokines