Cytotherapy with M1-polarized macrophages ameliorates liver fibrosis by modulating immune microenvironment in mice

J Hepatol. 2017 Oct;67(4):770-779. doi: 10.1016/j.jhep.2017.05.022. Epub 2017 Jul 26.


Background & aims: Macrophages play vital roles in chronic liver injury, and have been tested as a tool for cytotherapy in liver fibrosis. However, macrophages possess ontogenic and functional heterogeneities. Some subsets are pro-fibrotic, whereas others are anti-fibrotic. This study aimed to clarify which macrophage subset is efficient for cytotherapy in liver fibrosis and to elucidate the underlying mechanisms.

Methods: Liver fibrosis was induced in mice by carbon tetrachloride injection or bile duct ligation. Bone-marrow-derived macrophages (BMDMs) were polarized into M0, M1, or M2 macrophages, respectively. BMDMs were infused into mice through the tail vein at different stages of fibrogenesis. Fibrosis progression, hepatic cell populations, and related molecular changes were evaluated.

Results: Both M0 and M1 BMDMs significantly ameliorated liver fibrosis, but M1 exhibited stronger therapeutic effects than M0. M2 macrophages were not effective on liver fibrosis. M1 macrophages reduced the number and activation of hepatic stellate cells (HSCs), which could be attributed at least partly to increased HSC apoptosis. M1 macrophages enhanced the recruitment of endogenous macrophages into fibrotic liver, which displayed the phenotype of Ly6Clo restorative macrophages and produced matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) and hepatic growth factor (HGF) to enhance collagen degradation and hepatocyte proliferation, respectively. M1 macrophages also increased the number of total and activated natural killer (NK) cells in the fibrotic liver, which released TNF-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL), inducing HSC apoptosis.

Conclusions: M1 macrophages, which modulate the immune microenvironment to recruit and modify the activation of endogenous macrophages and NK cells, are effective for cytotherapy in experimental liver fibrosis. Lay summary: M1 Bone marrow-derived macrophages (BMDMs) exhibit a stronger therapeutic effect by modulating the hepatic microenvironment to recruit and modify the activation of endogenous macrophages and natural killer (NK) cells, which likely lead to hepatic stellate cells (HSCs) apoptosis and hampered fibrogenesis.

Keywords: Cytotherapy; Hepatic stellate cells; Liver fibrosis; Macrophages; Polarization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigens, Ly / metabolism
  • Apoptosis
  • Carbon Tetrachloride / toxicity
  • Cell- and Tissue-Based Therapy / methods*
  • Cellular Microenvironment / immunology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Hepatic Stellate Cells / pathology
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology
  • Liver Cirrhosis / immunology
  • Liver Cirrhosis / pathology
  • Liver Cirrhosis / therapy*
  • Macrophage Activation
  • Macrophages / classification
  • Macrophages / immunology*
  • Macrophages / transplantation
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Transgenic


  • Antigens, Ly
  • Ly-6C antigen, mouse
  • Carbon Tetrachloride