Biological role of granulocyte macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) and macrophage colony-stimulating factor (M-CSF) on cells of the myeloid lineage

J Leukoc Biol. 2016 Sep;100(3):481-9. doi: 10.1189/jlb.3RU0316-144R. Epub 2016 Jun 28.


M-CSF and GM-CSF are 2 important cytokines that regulate macrophage numbers and function. Here, we review their known effects on cells of the macrophage-monocyte lineage. Important clues to their function come from their expression patterns. M-CSF exhibits a mostly homeostatic expression pattern, whereas GM-CSF is a product of cells activated during inflammatory or pathologic conditions. Accordingly, M-CSF regulates the numbers of various tissue macrophage and monocyte populations without altering their "activation" status. Conversely, GM-CSF induces activation of monocytes/macrophages and also mediates differentiation to other states that participate in immune responses [i.e., dendritic cells (DCs)]. Further insights into their function have come from analyses of mice deficient in either cytokine. M-CSF signals through its receptor (CSF-1R). Interestingly, mice deficient in CSF-1R expression exhibit a more significant phenotype than mice deficient in M-CSF. This observation was explained by the discovery of a novel cytokine (IL-34) that represents a second ligand of CSF-1R. Information about the function of these ligands/receptor system is still developing, but its complexity is intriguing and strongly suggests that more interesting biology remains to be elucidated. Based on our current knowledge, several therapeutic molecules targeting either the M-CSF or the GM-CSF pathways have been developed and are currently being tested in clinical trials targeting either autoimmune diseases or cancer. It is intriguing to consider how evolution has directed these pathways to develop; their complexity likely mirrors the multiple functions in which cells of the monocyte/macrophage system are involved.

Keywords: cytokines; homeostasis; inflammation.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Lineage / immunology*
  • Granulocyte-Macrophage Colony-Stimulating Factor / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Macrophage Colony-Stimulating Factor / physiology*
  • Myeloid Cells / immunology*


  • Macrophage Colony-Stimulating Factor
  • Granulocyte-Macrophage Colony-Stimulating Factor