Macrophages and polymorphonuclear neutrophils in lung defense and injury

Am Rev Respir Dis. 1990 Feb;141(2):471-501. doi: 10.1164/ajrccm/141.2.471.


Phagocytes, in particular macrophages and PMN, are now recognized as major components of inflammatory and immunologic reactions in the lung. Normally, macrophages represent the majority of phagocytes in the lower respiratory tract. These lung macrophages are morphologically and functionally heterogenous and include alveolar, interstitial, intravascular, and airway macrophages, each with characteristic morphologic and functional features. Through the presence of surface receptors for numerous ligands and through their large number of secretory products, lung macrophages can respond to environmental factors and account for most of the clearance of microparticles and microorganisms in the distal airways and the alveolar spaces. In addition, macrophages also play an important role in inflammatory processes through the release of oxygen radicals and proteolytic enzymes. Through the release of several cytokines, i.e., growth-promoting and inhibiting factors, lung macrophages may also influence both matrix damage and repair processes. Macrophages can also contribute to the alveolitis by recruitment of inflammatory and immune cells. This latter contribution is best demonstrated in migration movement of PMN. The normal distal airways generally contain a small number of PMN, but the pulmonary vascular bed represents a large reservoir of PMN. Some of them are in intimate contact with the endothelium, forming the so-called marginating pool of PMN. Because the capillary lumen is separated only from the alveolar space by a monolayer of endothelial and epithelial cells on each side of a thin interstitial matrix, it is likely that some inhibitory mechanism exists to prevent PMN from migrating towards the alveolar space. Such inhibitors of PMN migration are present both in serum and in the alveolar space, some being released by alveolar macrophages. However, alveolar macrophages can also secrete factors called chemotaxins that attract PMN to the airways, and this supports a central role for alveolar macrophages in the regulation of PMN traffic in the lungs. Thus, secretory products of alveolar macrophages are part of the regulatory mechanisms of PMN mobility and adherence that appears to be crucial in the initiation of some inflammatory reactions. The contribution of phagocytes to the defense against infection and tumor has been documented mostly in vitro. Thus, both oxygen radicals, in particular hydroxyl radicals and proteases such as lysozyme, are potent bactericidal agents. That phagocytes are also important defenders of the lungs in vivo is best supported by the observations in immunodeficient patients and animal models.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Cellular / immunology
  • Immunity, Cellular / physiology
  • Lung / immunology*
  • Lung Diseases / etiology
  • Lung Diseases / immunology*
  • Macrophages / immunology*
  • Macrophages / metabolism
  • Neutrophils / immunology*
  • Neutrophils / metabolism
  • Receptors, Immunologic / immunology


  • Receptors, Immunologic