The evolution of macrophages has made them primordial for both development and immunity. Their functions range from the shaping of body plans to the ingestion and elimination of apoptotic cells and pathogens. Cytokines are small soluble proteins that confer instructions and mediate communication among immune and non-immune cells. A portfolio of cytokines is central to the role of macrophages as sentries of the innate immune system that mediate the transition from innate to adaptive immunity. In concert with other mediators, cytokines bias the fate of macrophages into a spectrum of inflammation-promoting "classically activated," to anti-inflammatory or "alternatively activated" macrophages. Deregulated cytokine secretion is implicated in several disease states ranging from chronic inflammation to allergy. Macrophages release cytokines via a series of beautifully orchestrated pathways that are spatiotemporally regulated. At the molecular level, these exocytic cytokine secretion pathways are coordinated by multi-protein complexes that guide cytokines from their point of synthesis to their ports of exit into the extracellular milieu. These trafficking proteins, many of which were discovered in yeast and commemorated in the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, coordinate the organelle fusion steps that are responsible for cytokine release. This review discusses the functions of cytokines secreted by macrophages, and summarizes what is known about their release mechanisms. This information will be used to delve into how selected pathogens subvert cytokine release for their own survival.
Keywords: Leishmania; Mycobacterium ulcerans; anti-inflammatory; cytokine; exocytosis; macrophage; proinflammatory; trafficking.