The intestine contains the largest pool of macrophages in the body which are essential for maintaining mucosal homeostasis in the face of the microbiota and the constant need for epithelial renewal but are also important components of protective immunity and are involved in the pathology of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). However, defining the biological roles of intestinal macrophages has been impeded by problems in defining the phenotype and origins of different populations of myeloid cells in the mucosa. Here, we discuss how multiple parameters can be used in combination to discriminate between functionally distinct myeloid cells and discuss the roles of macrophages during homeostasis and how these may change when inflammation ensues. We also discuss the evidence that intestinal macrophages do not fit the current paradigm that tissue-resident macrophages are derived from embryonic precursors that self-renew in situ, but require constant replenishment by blood monocytes. We describe our recent work demonstrating that classical monocytes constantly enter the intestinal mucosa and how the environment dictates their subsequent fate. We believe that understanding the factors that drive intestinal macrophage development in the steady state and how these may change in response to pathogens or inflammation could provide important insights into the treatment of IBD.
Keywords: homeostasis; inflammation; intestine; macrophages; monocytes.
© 2014 The Authors Immunological Reviews Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.