Nature and nurture of tissue-specific macrophage phenotypes

Atherosclerosis. 2019 Feb;281:159-167. doi: 10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2018.10.005. Epub 2018 Oct 6.


Macrophages are key players in immunity and tissue homeostasis but can also contribute to a diverse range of human diseases, including cardiovascular diseases. Enhancers, cis-acting DNA elements regulating gene activity, have been shown to be crucial for control of macrophage development and function. The selection and activities of macrophage-specific enhancers are regulated by the combined actions of lineage determining transcription factors (LDTFs) and signal dependent transcription factors (SDTFs) that are specified by developmental origin and tissue-specific signals. As a consequence, each tissue resident macrophage population adopts a distinct phenotype. In this review, we discuss recent work on how environmental factors affect the activation status of enhancers and can lead to long-lasting epigenetic changes resulting in innate immune memory. Furthermore, we discuss how non-coding genetic variation affects gene expression by altering transcription factor binding through local and domain-wide mechanisms. These findings have implications for interpretation of non-coding risk alleles that are associated with human disease and efforts to target macrophages for therapeutic purposes.

Keywords: Enhancer; Genetic variation; Macrophage; Tissue environment.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Plasticity / genetics*
  • Cellular Microenvironment*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Gene-Environment Interaction*
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate / genetics*
  • Immunologic Memory / drug effects*
  • Macrophage Activation / genetics*
  • Macrophages / immunology*
  • Macrophages / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction
  • Transcription, Genetic