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      Characteristics and potential role of M2 macrophages in COPD

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          COPD is a multi-pathogenesis disease mainly caused by smoking. A further understanding of the mechanism of smoking-related COPD might contribute to preventions and treatments of this disease in the early stages. This study was designed to identify the characteristics of M2 macrophages in COPD for a better understanding about their potential role.

          Materials and methods

          COPD models were built in the C57BL/6 mouse by cigarette smoke (CS) exposure combined with intraperitoneal injection of cigarette smoke extract (CSE). The modeling efficiency was evaluated by lung function and hematoxylin and eosin (H&E) staining. The number of different macrophage phenotypes was detected by immunohistochemical staining (IHS) of CD206, CD86 and CD68 on the lung tissue paraffin section. The RAW264.7 cells were polarized toward the M2 phenotype by interleukin IL-4 and confirmed by a flow cytometer. The gene expression levels of TGF-βRII, Smad2, Smad3 and Smad7 in CSE-treated M2 macrophages were detected by real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). The expression levels of TGF-β/Smad pathway-related makers (TGF-βRII, p-Smad2, p-Smad3, Smad7 and TGF-β) in alveolar M2 macrophages were detected by two consecutive paraffin section IHS.


          The COPD model is well established, which is confirmed by the lung function test and lung H&E staining. The whole number of macrophages and the ratio of M2/M1 phenotype are both increased ( p<0.05). The level of CD206 + cells in IL-4-stimulated RAW264.7 cells is up to 93.4%, which is confirmed by a flow cytometer. The gene expression of TGF-βRII, Smad2, Smad3 and Smad7 are all enhanced ( p<0.05) in CES-treated M2 macrophages, which is detected by RT-PCR. The protein levels of TGF-β/Smad pathway-related markers are all increased in alveolar M2 macrophages of the model group.


          This study found an increased deposition of alveolar M2 macrophages in the mouse COPD model and an increased expression level of TGF-β/Smad pathway in M2 macrophages, both in vitro and in vivo, induced by CSE and/or CS exposure, indicating that M2 macrophages might contribute to COPD through changing of phenotype and TGF-β/Smad pathway.

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          Most cited references 32

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          IRF5 promotes inflammatory macrophage polarization and TH1-TH17 responses.

          Polymorphisms in the gene encoding the transcription factor IRF5 that lead to higher mRNA expression are associated with many autoimmune diseases. Here we show that IRF5 expression in macrophages was reversibly induced by inflammatory stimuli and contributed to the plasticity of macrophage polarization. High expression of IRF5 was characteristic of M1 macrophages, in which it directly activated transcription of the genes encoding interleukin 12 subunit p40 (IL-12p40), IL-12p35 and IL-23p19 and repressed the gene encoding IL-10. Consequently, those macrophages set up the environment for a potent T helper type 1 (T(H)1)-T(H)17 response. Global gene expression analysis demonstrated that exogenous IRF5 upregulated or downregulated expression of established phenotypic markers of M1 or M2 macrophages, respectively. Our data suggest a critical role for IRF5 in M1 macrophage polarization and define a previously unknown function for IRF5 as a transcriptional repressor.
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            Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: molecular and cellular mechanisms.

            Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a leading cause of death and disability, but has only recently been extensively explored from a cellular and molecular perspective. There is a chronic inflammation that leads to fixed narrowing of small airways and alveolar wall destruction (emphysema). This is characterised by increased numbers of alveolar macrophages, neutrophils and cytotoxic T-lymphocytes, and the release of multiple inflammatory mediators (lipids, chemokines, cytokines, growth factors). A high level of oxidative stress may amplify this inflammation. There is also increased elastolysis and evidence for involvement of several elastolytic enzymes, including serine proteases, cathepsins and matrix metalloproteinases. The inflammation and proteolysis in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is an amplification of the normal inflammatory response to cigarette smoke. This inflammation, in marked contrast to asthma, appears to be resistant to corticosteroids, prompting a search for novel anti-inflammatory therapies that may prevent the relentless progression of the disease.
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              Smoking-dependent reprogramming of alveolar macrophage polarization: implication for pathogenesis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

              When exposed to a specific microenvironment, macrophages acquire either M1- or M2-polarized phenotypes associated with inflammation and tissue remodeling, respectively. Alveolar macrophages (AM) directly interact with environmental stimuli such as cigarette smoke, the major risk factor for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a disease characterized by lung inflammation and remodeling. Transcriptional profiling of AM obtained by bronchoalveolar lavage of 24 healthy nonsmokers, 34 healthy smokers, and 12 COPD smokers was performed to test the hypothesis whether smoking alters AM polarization, resulting in a disease-relevant activation phenotype. The analysis revealed that AM of healthy smokers exhibited a unique polarization pattern characterized by substantial suppression of M1-related inflammatory/immune genes and induction of genes associated with various M2-polarization programs relevant to tissue remodeling and immunoregulation. Such reciprocal changes progressed with the development of COPD, with M1-related gene expression being most dramatically down-regulated (p < 0.0001 vs healthy nonsmokers, p < 0.002 vs healthy smokers). Results were confirmed with TaqMan real-time PCR and flow cytometry. Among progressively down-regulated M1-related genes were those encoding type I chemokines CXCL9, CXCL10, CXCL11, and CCL5. Progressive activation of M2-related program was characterized by induction of tissue remodeling and immunoregulatory genes such as matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)2, MMP7, and adenosine A3 receptor (ADORA3). Principal component analysis revealed that differential expression of polarization-related genes has substantial contribution to global AM phenotypes associated with smoking and COPD. In summary, the data provide transcriptome-based evidence that AM likely contribute to COPD pathogenesis in a noninflammatory manner due to their smoking-induced reprogramming toward M1-deactivated, partially M2-polarized macrophages.

                Author and article information

                Int J Chron Obstruct Pulmon Dis
                Int J Chron Obstruct Pulmon Dis
                International Journal of COPD
                International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
                Dove Medical Press
                17 October 2017
                : 12
                : 3029-3039
                Department of Respiratory Medicine, The Third Xiangya Hospital of Central South University, Changsha, Hunan, People’s Republic of China
                Author notes
                Correspondence: Shenghua Sun; Lihua Xie, Department of Respiratory Medicine, The Third Xiangya Hospital of Central South University, 3w 138 Tongzipo Road, Yuelu District, Changsha, Hunan 410013, People’s Republic of China, Tel +86 139 7317 1587; +86 137 8714 3364, Fax +86 731 8861 8203, Email hermmoon@ ; xyelyhua@
                © 2017 He et al. This work is published and licensed by Dove Medical Press Limited

                The full terms of this license are available at and incorporate the Creative Commons Attribution – Non Commercial (unported, v3.0) License ( By accessing the work you hereby accept the Terms. Non-commercial uses of the work are permitted without any further permission from Dove Medical Press Limited, provided the work is properly attributed.

                Original Research

                Respiratory medicine

                tgf-β/smad pathway, m2 macrophage, copd


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