Elimination, blocking, and activation of macrophages: three of a kind?

J Leukoc Biol. 1997 Dec;62(6):702-9. doi: 10.1002/jlb.62.6.702.


In mammals, macrophages are multifunctional cells. Apart from their scavenger role in the clearance of non-self materials such as microorganisms and altered-self materials such as apoptotic cells, senescent erythrocytes, immune complexes, and inflammatory products, they play a crucial role in the regulation of both innate and acquired immunity. Whereas the former activity is based on phagocytosis and intracellular degradation, the latter activity largely depends on the production and secretion of a panel of regulatory molecules such as cytokines, chemokines, and nitrogen oxide (NO). Depletion of macrophages and blocking of phagocytosis form important approaches to study the role of these cells in various host defense mechanisms. Moreover, the efficacy of drug- and gene-targeting, based on the application of particulate carrier devices, can be improved in this way. However, compounds originally described as efficacious blockers of phagocytosis simultaneously activate their production of cytokines and NO. Moreover, elimination, blocking, as well as activation of macrophages are all dependent on the concentration of such compounds. When administered in vivo, they will reach some macrophages in a high and others in a low concentration. As a consequence, the former cells may be eliminated or blocked, whereas the latter are activated by the same treatment. In this review, the various methods for suppression of macrophage functions are compared and requirements for the development of new, selective, and organ-specific macrophage-suppressing devices are discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Macrophage Activation*
  • Macrophages / physiology*
  • Phagocytosis