Co-stimulation with opposing macrophage polarization cues leads to orthogonal secretion programs in individual cells

Nat Commun. 2021 Jan 12;12(1):301. doi: 10.1038/s41467-020-20540-2.


Macrophages are innate immune cells that contribute to fighting infections, tissue repair, and maintaining tissue homeostasis. To enable such functional diversity, macrophages resolve potentially conflicting cues in the microenvironment via mechanisms that are unclear. Here, we use single-cell RNA sequencing to explore how individual macrophages respond when co-stimulated with inflammatory stimuli LPS and IFN-γ and the resolving cytokine IL-4. These co-stimulated macrophages display a distinct global transcriptional program. However, variable negative cross-regulation between some LPS + IFN-γ-specific and IL-4-specific genes results in cell-to-cell heterogeneity in transcription. Interestingly, negative cross-regulation leads to mutually exclusive expression of the T-cell-polarizing cytokine genes Il6 and Il12b versus the IL-4-associated factors Arg1 and Chil3 in single co-stimulated macrophages, and single-cell secretion measurements show that these specialized functions are maintained for at least 48 h. This study suggests that increasing functional diversity in the population is one strategy macrophages use to respond to conflicting environmental cues.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arginase / metabolism
  • Cell Polarity* / drug effects
  • Cell Polarity* / genetics
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects
  • Interferon-gamma / pharmacology
  • Interleukin-12 / metabolism
  • Interleukin-6 / metabolism
  • Lipopolysaccharides / pharmacology
  • Machine Learning
  • Macrophages / cytology*
  • Macrophages / drug effects
  • Macrophages / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Neural Networks, Computer
  • Odds Ratio
  • Single-Cell Analysis
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Transcription, Genetic / drug effects


  • Interleukin-6
  • Lipopolysaccharides
  • Transcription Factors
  • Interleukin-12
  • Interferon-gamma
  • Arginase