Macrophage Polarization in Atherosclerosis

Genes (Basel). 2022 Apr 25;13(5):756. doi: 10.3390/genes13050756.


The implication of the heterogeneous spectrum of pro- and anti-inflammatory macrophages (Macs) has been an important area of investigation over the last decade. The polarization of Macs alters their functional phenotype in response to their surrounding microenvironment. Macs are the major immune cells implicated in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis. A hallmark pathology of atherosclerosis is the accumulation of pro-inflammatory M1-like macrophages in coronary arteries induced by pro-atherogenic stimuli; these M1-like pro-inflammatory macrophages are incapable of digesting lipids, thus resulting in foam cell formation in the atherosclerotic plaques. Recent findings suggest that the progression and stability of atherosclerotic plaques are dependent on the quantity of infiltrated Macs, the polarization state of the Macs, and the ratios of different types of Mac populations. The polarization of Macs is defined by signature markers on the cell surface, as well as by factors in intracellular and intranuclear compartments. At the same time, pro- and anti-inflammatory polarized Macs also exhibit different gene expression patterns, with differential cellular characteristics in oxidative phosphorylation and glycolysis. Macs are reflective of different metabolic states and various types of diseases. In this review, we discuss the major differences between M1-like Macs and M2-like Macs, their associated metabolic pathways, and their roles in atherosclerosis.

Keywords: atherosclerosis; immunometabolism; innate immunity; macrophage; polarization.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Atherosclerosis* / genetics
  • Atherosclerosis* / pathology
  • Humans
  • Macrophage Activation
  • Macrophages / metabolism
  • Phenotype
  • Plaque, Atherosclerotic* / genetics
  • Plaque, Atherosclerotic* / metabolism