Macrophages- Definition, Structure, Immunity, Types, Functions
Macrophages are a type of white blood cells that belong to the mononuclear phagocyte system (MPS). The MPS consists of cells that originate from the bone marrow and differentiate into various types of phagocytic cells in different tissues. Phagocytosis is the process of engulfing and digesting foreign particles, microbes, dead cells, and other substances by specialized cells.
Macrophages are widely distributed throughout the body and can be found in almost every organ and tissue. They play a crucial role in maintaining homeostasis, immunity, inflammation, and tissue repair. Macrophages can adapt to different microenvironments and perform diverse functions depending on the signals they receive from their surroundings.
Macrophages are derived from circulating monocytes that leave the blood vessels and enter the tissues. There, they undergo further maturation and activation by various stimuli, such as cytokines, growth factors, pathogens, or tissue damage. Macrophages can also proliferate locally in response to inflammation or infection.
Macrophages are characterized by their large size, irregular shape, abundant cytoplasm, and ovoid nucleus. They have various surface receptors that allow them to recognize and bind to different molecules, such as antibodies, complement proteins, lipids, carbohydrates, and nucleic acids. They also have intracellular receptors that sense microbial components or endogenous danger signals.
Macrophages can ingest a wide range of particles and substances by different mechanisms of phagocytosis. They can also secrete various molecules that modulate the immune response and influence the behavior of other cells. Some of these molecules include cytokines, chemokines, reactive oxygen species (ROS), reactive nitrogen species (RNS), enzymes, growth factors, and matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs).
Macrophages are essential for the innate immune response against pathogens and foreign invaders. They can directly kill microbes by producing ROS and RNS or by fusing their phagosomes with lysosomes that contain digestive enzymes. They can also present antigens to T cells and B cells and activate them to initiate the adaptive immune response.
Macrophages are also involved in the resolution of inflammation and the repair of damaged tissues. They can remove apoptotic cells and cellular debris by phagocytosis and secrete anti-inflammatory cytokines and growth factors that promote tissue regeneration and angiogenesis. They can also remodel the extracellular matrix by producing MMPs and collagen.
Macrophages are not a homogeneous population of cells but rather a heterogeneous group of cells that can be classified into different subsets based on their phenotype, function, and location. The two main subsets of macrophages are classically activated macrophages (M1) and alternatively activated macrophages (M2). M1 macrophages are pro-inflammatory and microbicidal, while M2 macrophages are anti-inflammatory and tissue-repairing.
In summary, macrophages are mononuclear cells that function as professional phagocytes. They have multiple roles in homeostasis, immunity, inflammation, and tissue repair. They can adapt to different microenvironments and perform diverse functions depending on the signals they receive from their surroundings.
Macrophages are mononuclear cells that have a variable morphology and size depending on their state of activation and the tissue they reside in. The cytoplasm of macrophages contains various organelles and granules that help them perform their functions.
The morphology of macrophages can be divided into two main types: resting and activated. Resting macrophages are usually round or oval in shape, with a smooth surface and a single nucleus. Activated macrophages are more irregular in shape, with a ruffled surface and multiple nuclei. They also have more cytoplasmic extensions that allow them to interact with other cells and extracellular matrix.
The morphology of macrophages can also vary depending on the type of tissue they are found in. For example, alveolar macrophages in the lungs have a flattened shape and a large surface area to facilitate gas exchange. Kupffer cells in the liver have a sinusoidal shape and a high phagocytic activity to clear blood-borne pathogens. Microglia in the brain have a ramified shape and a low phagocytic activity to maintain neuronal homeostasis.
The size of macrophages ranges from 10 to 30 micrometers in diameter, depending on their state of activation and the tissue they reside in. Resting macrophages are usually smaller than activated macrophages, as they have less cytoplasm and organelles. Activated macrophages are larger and more granular, as they have more cytoplasmic components and lysosomes.
The size of macrophages can also vary depending on the type of tissue they are found in. For example, alveolar macrophages in the lungs are smaller than Kupffer cells in the liver, as they have less cytoplasmic volume and granules. Microglia in the brain are smaller than other macrophages, as they have less cytoplasmic extensions and organelles.
Organelles and Granules
The cytoplasm of macrophages contains various organelles and granules that help them perform their functions. Some of the main ones are:
- Mitochondria: These are rod-shaped organelles that produce energy for the cell through oxidative phosphorylation. They are abundant in macrophages, as they require a high amount of energy for their phagocytic and secretory activities.
- Endoplasmic Reticulum: This is a network of membranous tubules that synthesize and transport proteins and lipids for the cell. It is continuous with the nuclear membrane, where ribosomes are attached to produce proteins. It is also involved in calcium signaling and stress response.
- Golgi Apparatus: This is a stack of flattened membranous sacs that modify and sort proteins and lipids for secretion or delivery to other organelles. It is also involved in glycosylation and sulfation of molecules.
- Lysosomes: These are spherical organelles that contain hydrolytic enzymes that degrade various materials ingested by the cell through phagocytosis or endocytosis. They are derived from endocytic vesicles that fuse with Golgi-derived vesicles. They are also involved in autophagy, antigen presentation, and signaling.
- Phagosomes: These are membrane-bound vesicles that contain materials ingested by the cell through phagocytosis. They fuse with lysosomes to form phagolysosomes, where the materials are degraded by lysosomal enzymes.
- Pinocytic Vesicles: These are small membrane-bound vesicles that contain fluids or solutes taken up by the cell through pinocytosis or receptor-mediated endocytosis. They can fuse with lysosomes or other organelles for degradation or processing.
- Peroxisomes: These are small spherical organelles that contain oxidative enzymes that break down fatty acids, amino acids, and toxins. They also produce hydrogen peroxide as a by-product, which is used for oxidative reactions or degraded by catalase.
- Granules: These are dense structures that contain various substances that can be released by the cell upon stimulation. They can be classified into primary (azurophilic) granules and secondary (specific) granules. Primary granules contain myeloperoxidase, lysozyme, defensins, and other antimicrobial agents. Secondary granules contain cytokines, chemokines, growth factors, complement components, and other inflammatory mediators.
The structure of macrophages reflects their diverse functions in immunity, homeostasis, and tissue repair. By understanding their morphology, size, organelles, and granules, we can better appreciate their roles in health and disease.
Macrophages are essential components of the innate immune system that protect the host from various pathogens and clear necrotic and apoptotic cells. Macrophages perform their immune functions by four distinct mechanisms: sensing, chemotaxis, phagocytosis and tissue repair, and adaptive stimulation.
Macrophages can sense their local environment using various intracellular and cell-surface pattern recognition receptors (PRRs) that recognize molecular patterns associated with pathogens or damage. These receptors trigger signaling pathways that activate the macrophage response. Some of the common PRRs expressed by macrophages are:
- Toll-like receptors (TLRs): These are a family of 14 receptors that can detect bacterial, viral, fungal, and parasitic components. TLRs also induce inflammatory signaling by producing cytokines such as IL-6, TNF-α, and IL-12.
- Fc receptors: These are receptors that bind to antibodies that are already attached to antigens, resulting in phagocytosis and antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity (ADCC).
- C-type lectin receptors (CLRs): These are receptors that bind to carbohydrate structures on pathogens and mediate phagocytosis and antigen presentation.
- NOD-like receptors (NLRs): These are cytoplasmic receptors that sense intracellular pathogens or damage and form inflammasomes that activate caspase-1 and IL-1β.
- RIG-I-like receptors (RLRs): These are cytoplasmic receptors that sense viral RNA and induce antiviral responses by producing type I interferons.
After sensing a pathogen or damage, macrophages secrete chemokines that attract other immune cells to the site of infection or injury. Chemokines are small proteins that bind to specific receptors on leukocytes and direct their migration along a concentration gradient. Some of the common chemokines produced by macrophages are:
- CCL2: This chemokine recruits monocytes, dendritic cells, and T cells to the site of inflammation.
- CCL3, CCL4, CCL5: These chemokines recruit natural killer cells, neutrophils, eosinophils, basophils, and T cells to the site of infection.
- CXCL8: This chemokine recruits neutrophils and T cells to the site of bacterial infection.
- CXCL9, CXCL10, CXCL11: These chemokines recruit Th1 cells and cytotoxic T cells to the site of viral infection.
Phagocytosis and Tissue repair
The main function of macrophages is to engulf and destroy foreign particles and cellular debris by phagocytosis. Phagocytosis is a process in which macrophages extend pseudopodia around the target and internalize it into a membrane-bound vesicle called a phagosome. The phagosome then fuses with a lysosome containing various enzymes and reactive oxygen species (ROS) and reactive nitrogen species (RNS) that degrade the contents. Some of the common molecules involved in the killing of phagosomal pathogens are:
- ROS: These are highly reactive molecules such as superoxide anion (O2-), hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), and hydroxyl radical (OH) that damage the membranes, proteins, and DNA of pathogens.
- RNS: These are molecules such as nitric oxide (NO) and peroxynitrite (ONOO-) that react with ROS to produce toxic compounds that inhibit microbial enzymes and damage DNA.
- Lysozyme: This is an enzyme that cleaves the peptidoglycan layer of bacterial cell walls.
- Defensins: These are antimicrobial peptides that insert into the membranes of pathogens and form pores that disrupt their integrity.
- Cathelicidins: These are antimicrobial peptides that bind to bacterial lipopolysaccharide (LPS) and neutralize its endotoxic activity.
Macrophages also play a role in tissue repair and regeneration after inflammation. Macrophages secrete growth factors, cytokines, and extracellular matrix proteins that promote cell proliferation, angiogenesis, collagen synthesis, and wound healing. Some of the common molecules involved in tissue repair by macrophages are:
- Transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-β): This is a cytokine that stimulates fibroblast proliferation and collagen production.
- Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF): This is a growth factor that stimulates endothelial cell proliferation and angiogenesis.
- Platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF): This is a growth factor that stimulates smooth muscle cell proliferation and migration.
- Fibroblast growth factor (FGF): This is a growth factor that stimulates epithelial cell proliferation and migration.
Macrophages also participate in adaptive immunity by presenting antigens to T cells and stimulating their activation and differentiation. Macrophages process antigens by degrading them into peptides and loading them onto major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules on their surface. Macrophages can present antigens on both MHC class I and MHC class II molecules depending on the source of the antigen. MHC class I molecules present endogenous antigens derived from intracellular pathogens or tumor cells to CD8+ cytotoxic T cells. MHC class II molecules present exogenous antigens derived from extracellular pathogens or phagocytosed particles to CD4+ helper T cells. In addition to antigen presentation, macrophages also provide costimulatory signals such as CD80/CD86-B7.1/B7.2 interaction with CD28 on T cells and cytokine secretion such as IL-12 or IL-4 that influence the polarization of T cells into Th1 or Th2 subsets. Th1 cells produce IFN-γ and TNF-α that activate macrophages to kill intracellular pathogens. Th2 cells produce IL-4, IL-5, IL-10, and IL-13 that inhibit macrophage activation and promote humoral immunity against extracellular pathogens.
Macrophages can be classified into one of the two opposing phenotypes; classically activated or M1 macrophages and alternatively activated or M2 macrophages. Macrophages are also of different types depending on the type of tissue they are found on. The classification is based on the activation phenotype of recruited macrophages which, in turn, depends on the surrounding microenvironment.
Classically activated macrophages or M1 macrophages
- Macrophages stimulated with a toll-like receptor in the presence of interferon-γ result in the formation of M1 macrophages.
- These macrophages have an enhanced capacity to present antigen, produce nitric oxide and secrete a large number of chemokines,
- These macrophages are essential in defense against bacteria which can be damaging to the host as a result of collateral damage brought about by the defense mechanisms they utilize.
Alternatively-activated macrophages or M2 macrophages
- Macrophages activated as a result of exposure to IL-4, IL-3 produced by CD4+ T cells from the alternatively activated macrophages or M2 macrophages.
- These macrophages are usually produced in the response to parasites and fungi. These express high amounts of cytosolic arginase and extracellular matrix-related proteins.
- M2 macrophages have the ability to limit inflammation and also play an essential role in tissue repair and wound healing.
Some examples of tissue-specific macrophages are:
- Alveolar macrophages: These are found in the lungs and help clear the airways of dust, bacteria and other particles.
- Kupffer cells: These are found in the liver and help filter the blood of toxins, pathogens and dead cells.
- Microglia: These are found in the brain and spinal cord and help protect the central nervous system from infection and injury.
- Osteoclasts: These are found in the bone and help break down bone tissue for remodeling and calcium homeostasis.
Macrophages are versatile cells that perform various functions in the body, depending on their location and activation state. Some of the main functions of macrophages are :
- Phagocytosis: Macrophages are professional phagocytes that can ingest and destroy microbes, dead or dying cells, and other harmful particles by phagocytosis. This process involves the recognition of foreign or damaged materials by cell-surface receptors, the engulfment of the materials into vesicles called phagosomes, and the fusion of phagosomes with lysosomes that contain enzymes and reactive oxygen species that digest the contents. Phagocytosis is one of the principal mechanisms of innate immunity that protects the tissues from infection and injury.
- Antigen presentation: Macrophages are also antigen-presenting cells (APCs) that can process and present antigens to other immune cells, such as T lymphocytes. Antigens are molecules that can elicit an immune response. Macrophages can display fragments of antigens on their cell-surface major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II molecules, which can bind to T cell receptors on helper T cells. This interaction stimulates the activation and proliferation of helper T cells, which then secrete cytokines that modulate the adaptive immune response.
- Inflammation: Macrophages can also initiate and regulate inflammation, which is a complex biological response to tissue damage or infection. Macrophages can secrete various pro-inflammatory cytokines, such as interleukin-1 (IL-1), interleukin-6 (IL-6), tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), and chemokines, which recruit and activate other immune cells, such as neutrophils, eosinophils, basophils, mast cells, natural killer cells, and dendritic cells. Macrophages can also produce anti-inflammatory cytokines, such as interleukin-10 (IL-10) and transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta), which limit and resolve inflammation.
- Tissue repair and regeneration: Macrophages play an essential role in tissue repair and regeneration after injury or infection. Macrophages can promote extracellular matrix remodeling, angiogenesis, cell proliferation, differentiation, and migration through the secretion of various growth factors, such as vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF), fibroblast growth factor (FGF), and insulin-like growth factor (IGF). Macrophages can also modulate the activity of stem cells and progenitor cells in different tissues, such as muscle, bone, skin, liver, and brain.
- Iron homeostasis: Macrophages are involved in iron homeostasis, which is the maintenance of optimal levels of iron in the body. Macrophages can scavenge iron from senescent or damaged red blood cells through phagocytosis and store it in the form of ferritin or release it into the circulation through the expression of ferroportin. Macrophages can also regulate iron absorption from the intestine and iron distribution to other tissues through the production of hepcidin, a hormone that inhibits ferroportin activity.
These are some of the major functions of macrophages in the body. However, macrophages are not limited to these functions and can perform other roles depending on their microenvironment and stimuli. Macrophages are dynamic and adaptable cells that contribute to both health and disease.
We are Compiling this Section. Thanks for your understanding.