Macrophages: The Road Less Traveled, Changing Anticancer Therapy

Trends Mol Med. 2018 May;24(5):472-489. doi: 10.1016/j.molmed.2018.03.006. Epub 2018 Apr 11.


Macrophages are present in all vertebrate tissues and have emerged as multifarious cells with complex roles in development, tissue homeostasis, and disease. Macrophages are a major constituent of the tumor microenvironment, where they either promote or inhibit tumorigenesis and metastasis depending on their state. Successful preclinical strategies to target macrophages for anticancer therapy are now being evaluated in the clinic and provide proof of concept that targeting macrophages may enhance current therapies; however, clinical success has been limited. This review discusses the promise of targeting macrophages for anticancer therapy, yet highlights how much is unknown regarding their ontogeny, regulation, and tissue-specific diversity. Further work might identify subsets of macrophages within different tissues, which could reveal novel therapeutic opportunities for anticancer therapy.

Keywords: CSF-1R; novel anticancer therapy; tumor microenvironment; tumor-associated macrophages.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Macrophages / drug effects*
  • Macrophages / immunology
  • Macrophages / pathology
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy / methods
  • Neoplasms / blood supply
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / immunology
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic / immunology
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic / pathology
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic / prevention & control*
  • Trabectedin / therapeutic use
  • Tumor Microenvironment / drug effects
  • Tumor Microenvironment / immunology


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Trabectedin