Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy (ESWT) is used clinically in various disorders including chronic wounds for its pro-angiogenic, proliferative, and anti-inflammatory effects. However, the underlying cellular and molecular mechanisms driving therapeutic effects are not well characterized. Macrophages play a key role in all aspects of healing and their dysfunction results in failure to resolve chronic wounds. We investigated the role of ESWT on macrophage activity in chronic wound punch biopsies from patients with non-healing venous ulcers prior to, and two weeks post-ESWT, and in macrophage cultures treated with clinical shockwave intensities (150-500 impulses, 5 Hz, 0.1 mJ/mm2). Using wound area measurements and histological/immunohistochemical analysis of wound biopsies, we show ESWT enhanced healing of chronic ulcers associated with improved wound angiogenesis (CD31 staining), significantly decreased CD68-positive macrophages per biopsy area and generally increased macrophage activation. Shockwave treatment of macrophages in culture significantly boosted uptake of apoptotic cells, healing-associated cytokine and growth factor gene expressions and modulated macrophage morphology suggestive of macrophage activation, all of which contribute to wound resolution. Macrophage ERK activity was enhanced, suggesting one mechanotransduction pathway driving events. Collectively, these in vitro and in vivo findings reveal shockwaves as important regulators of macrophage functions linked with wound healing. This immunomodulation represents an underappreciated role of clinically applied shockwaves, which could be exploited for other macrophage-mediated disorders.
Keywords: chronic wounds; cytokine; healing; inflammation; macrophage; phagocytosis; shockwave therapy.