Single-cell characterization of macrophages in glioblastoma reveals MARCO as a mesenchymal pro-tumor marker

Genome Med. 2021 May 19;13(1):88. doi: 10.1186/s13073-021-00906-x.


Background: Macrophages are the most common infiltrating immune cells in gliomas and play a wide variety of pro-tumor and anti-tumor roles. However, the different subpopulations of macrophages and their effects on the tumor microenvironment remain poorly understood.

Methods: We combined new and previously published single-cell RNA-seq data from 98,015 single cells from a total of 66 gliomas to profile 19,331 individual macrophages.

Results: Unsupervised clustering revealed a pro-tumor subpopulation of bone marrow-derived macrophages characterized by the scavenger receptor MARCO, which is almost exclusively found in IDH1-wild-type glioblastomas. Previous studies have implicated MARCO as an unfavorable marker in melanoma and non-small cell lung cancer; here, we find that bulk MARCO expression is associated with worse prognosis and mesenchymal subtype. Furthermore, MARCO expression is significantly altered over the course of treatment with anti-PD1 checkpoint inhibitors in a response-dependent manner, which we validate with immunofluorescence imaging.

Conclusions: These findings illustrate a novel macrophage subpopulation that drives tumor progression in glioblastomas and suggest potential therapeutic targets to prevent their recruitment.

Keywords: Cancer immunotherapy; Glioblastoma; Macrophages; Single-cell RNA-seq.

Publication types

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