The immunophenotype of antigen presenting cells of the mononuclear phagocyte system in normal human liver--a systematic review

J Hepatol. 2015 Feb;62(2):458-68. doi: 10.1016/j.jhep.2014.10.006. Epub 2014 Oct 12.


The mononuclear phagocytic system (MPS), comprised of monocytes, macrophages, and dendritic cells, is essential in tissue homeostasis and in determining the balance of the immune response through its role in antigen presentation. It has been identified as a therapeutic target in infectious disease, cancer, autoimmune disease and transplant rejection. Here, we review the current understanding of the immunophenotype and function of the MPS in normal human liver. Using well-defined selection criteria, a search of MEDLINE and EMBASE databases identified 76 appropriate studies. The majority (n=67) described Kupffer cells (KCs), although the definition of KC differs between sources, and little data were available regarding their function. Only 10 papers looked at liver dendritic cells (DCs), and largely confirmed the presence of the major dendritic cell subsets identified in human blood. Monocytes were thoroughly characterized in four studies that utilized flow cytometry and fluorescent microscopy and highlighted their prominent role in liver homeostasis and displayed subtle differences from circulating monocytes. There was some limited evidence that liver DCs are tolerogenic but neither liver dendritic cell subsets nor macrophages have been thoroughly characterized, using either multi-colour flow cytometry or multi-parameter fluorescence microscopy. The lobular distribution of different subsets of liver MPS cells was also poorly described, and the ability to distinguish between passenger leukocytes and tissue resident cells remains limited. It was apparent that further research, using modern immunological techniques, is now required to accurately characterize the cells of the MPS in human liver.

Keywords: Antigen presenting cells; Dendritic cells; Human; Kupffer cell; Macrophages; Monocytes; Mononuclear phagocyte system; Review.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Flow Cytometry
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Cellular*
  • Immunophenotyping
  • Kupffer Cells / immunology*
  • Liver / cytology
  • Liver / immunology*
  • Mononuclear Phagocyte System / immunology*
  • Reference Values