Monocytes are progenitors to macrophages and a subclass of dendritic cells (monocyte-derived dendritic cells, MoDCs), but they also act as circulating sensors that respond to environmental changes and disease. Technological advances have defined the production of classical monocytes in the bone marrow through the identification of lineage-determining transcription factors (LDTFs) and have proposed alternative routes of differentiation. Monocytes released into the circulation can be recruited to tissues by specific chemoattractants where they respond to sequential niche-specific signals that determine their differentiation into terminal effector cells. New aspects of monocyte biology in the circulation are being revealed, exemplified by the influence of cancer on the systemic alteration of monocyte subset abundance and transcriptional profiles. These changes can act to enhance the metastatic spread of primary cancers and may offer therapeutic opportunities.
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