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Tissue repair is largely regulated by diverse Mϕ populations whose functions are timing- and context-dependent. The early phase of healing is dominated by pro-inflammatory Mϕs, also known as M1, followed by the emergence of a distinct and diverse population that is collectively referred to as M2. The extent of the diversity of the M2 population is unknown. M2 Mϕs may originate directly from circulating monocytes or from phenotypic switching of pre-existing M1 Mϕs within the site of injury. The differences between these groups are poorly understood, but have major implications for understanding and treating pathologies characterized by deficient M2 activation, such as chronic wounds, which also exhibit diminished M1 Mϕ behavior. This study investigated the influence of prior M1 activation on human Mϕ polarization to an M2 phenotype in response to IL-4 treatment in vitro. Compared to unactivated (M0) Mϕs, M1 Mϕs up-regulated several receptors that promote the M2 phenotype, including the primary receptor for IL-4. M1 Mϕs also up-regulated M2 markers in response to lower doses of IL-4, including doses as low as 10 pg/mL, and accelerated STAT6 phosphorylation. However, M1 activation appeared to also change the Mϕ response to treatment with IL-4, generating an M2-like phenotype with a distinct gene and protein expression signature compared to M2 Mϕs prepared directly from M0 Mϕs. Functionally, compared to M0-derived M2 Mϕs, M1-derived M2 Mϕs demonstrated increased migratory response to SDF-1α, and conditioned media from these Mϕs promoted increased migration of endothelial cells in transwell assays, although other common Mϕ-associated functions such as phagocytosis were not affected by prior polarization state. In summary, M1 polarization appears to prime Mϕs to transition into a distinct M2 phenotype in response to IL4, which leads to increased expression of some genes and proteins and decreased expression of others, as well as functional differences. Together, these findings indicate the importance of prior M1 activation in regulating subsequent M2 behavior, and suggest that correcting M1 behavior may be a therapeutic target in dysfunctional M2 activation. ©2021 Society for Leukocyte Biology.


Erin M O'Brien, Kara L Spiller. Pro-inflammatory polarization primes Macrophages to transition into a distinct M2-like phenotype in response to IL-4. Journal of leukocyte biology. 2022 May;111(5):989-1000

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PMID: 34643290

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