Macrophages (Mφ) undergo activation to pro-inflammatory (M1) or anti-inflammatory (M2) phenotypes in response to pathophysiologic stimuli and dysregulation of the M1-M2 balance is often associated with diseases. Therefore, studying mechanisms of macrophage polarization may reveal new drug targets. Human Mφ polarization is generally studied in primary monocyte-derived Mφ (PBMC Mφ) and THP-1-derived Mφ (THP-1 Mφ). We compared the polarization profile of THP-1 Mφ with that of PBMC Mφ to assess the alternative use of THP-1 for polarization studies. Cellular morphology, the expression profiles of 18 genes and 4 cell surface proteins, and phagocytosis capacity for apoptotic cells and S. aureus bioparticles were compared between these Mφ, activated towards M1, M2a, or M2c subsets by stimulation with LPS/IFNγ, IL-4, or IL-10, respectively, for 6h, 24h and 48h. The Mφ types are unique in morphology and basal expression of polarization marker genes, particularly CCL22, in a pre-polarized state, and were differentially sensitive to polarization stimuli. Generally, M1 markers were instantly induced and gradually decreased, while M2 markers were markedly expressed at a later time. Expression profiles of M1 markers were similar between the polarized Mφ types, but M2a cell surface markers demonstrated an IL-4-dependent upregulation only in PBMC Mφ. Polarized THP-1 Mφ but not PBMC Mφ showed distinctive phagocytic capacity for apoptotic cells and bacterial antigens, respectively. In conclusion, our data suggest that THP-1 may be useful for performing studies involving phagocytosis and M1 polarization, rather than M2 polarization.
Keywords: Cell surface receptor; Gene expression; Human polarization marker; Macrophage; Phagocytosis.
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