The cellular and molecular origin of tumor-associated macrophages

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Science  23 May 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6186, pp. 921-925
DOI: 10.1126/science.1252510

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Long recognized as an evolutionarily ancient cell type involved in tissue homeostasis and immune defense against pathogens, macrophages are being rediscovered as regulators of several diseases, including cancer. Here we show that in mice, mammary tumor growth induces the accumulation of tumor-associated macrophages (TAMs) that are phenotypically and functionally distinct from mammary tissue macrophages (MTMs). TAMs express the adhesion molecule Vcam1 and proliferate upon their differentiation from inflammatory monocytes, but do not exhibit an “alternatively activated” phenotype. TAM terminal differentiation depends on the transcriptional regulator of Notch signaling, RBPJ; and TAM, but not MTM, depletion restores tumor-infiltrating cytotoxic T cell responses and suppresses tumor growth. These findings reveal the ontogeny of TAMs and a discrete tumor-elicited inflammatory response, which may provide new opportunities for cancer immunotherapy.

Origins of tumor macrophages

To help the immune system fight cancer, it is important to understand the origins and functions of immune cells in tumors and the surrounding tissues. One type of immune cells, macrophages, is present both in tumors and in nearby noncancerous tissue, but the relationship between these two cell populations is unclear. Franklin et al. found that tumor-associated macrophages in mouse mammaries differed in form, function, and origin from macrophages found in nearby noncancerous mammary tissue. Moreover, when they removed macrophages from the tumors but not the other mammary tissue, tumors shrank and cytotoxic T cells—another kind of immune cell that kills tumor cells—infiltrated the tumors. Tumor-associated macrophages may thus be an important therapeutic target.

Science, this issue p. 921.

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