Macrophage polarization refers to how macrophages have been activated at a given point in space and time. Polarization is not fixed, as macrophages are sufficiently plastic to integrate multiple signals, such as those from microbes, damaged tissues, and the normal tissue environment. Three broad pathways control polarization: epigenetic and cell survival pathways that prolong or shorten macrophage development and viability, the tissue microenvironment, and extrinsic factors, such as microbial products and cytokines released in inflammation. A plethora of advances have provided a framework for rationally purifying, describing, and manipulating macrophage polarization. Here, I assess the current state of knowledge about macrophage polarization and enumerate the major questions about how activated macrophages regulate the physiology of normal and damaged tissues.
Keywords: cytokine; inflammation; macrophage; nonresolving inflammation; polarization; tissue repair.