Macrophages can define as the specialized immune cells that primarily recognize the foreign particles, and the cell remainings to facilitate phagocytosis. It differentiates from the monocytes. Besides phagocytosis, macrophages also play a functional role in presenting foreign particles to the T cells and also performs activation of other immune cells by releasing cytokines.

Macrophages perform limitless functions like, production of reactive oxygen species that can kill the phagocytosed cell. These are breaching immune cells between innate and adaptive immune system.

Content: Macrophages

  1. Definition
  2. Types
  3. Mechanism
  4. Functions
  5. Conclusion

Definition of Macrophage

Macrophages can define as the large specialized cells that can phagocytose or engulf the foreign particles. At the time of infection, these are found in the body tissues of infected cell that recognize, engulf and releases out the accumulated waste. Monocytes originate from the bone marrow and enter the blood circulation, and later leaves the circulation to differentiate into macrophages in different body tissues. It predominantly found in the endometrial stroma and myometrial connective tissue.
Structure of macrophage

Macrophage Differentiation

Monocytes derive from the stem cells of bone marrow and released into the bloodstream. Then, it remains in the circulatory system for almost eight hours, but then it enters into the space of body tissues to differentiate into macrophages. Later, the macrophages undergo several changes and turn into distinct forms, where each is specialized to perform specific tasks in an immune system.


Macrophage enters in the tissues of the target cell, where it facilitates invasion of foreign body or phagocytosis and also eliminates dead cells. Hence, macrophages are the group of phagocytic cells that collectively known as the mononuclear phagocyte system. Previously, the group of macrophages termed as a reticuloendothelial system.

Based on Location

The macrophage can classify into different kinds, depending upon its location.

  • Alveolar macrophage: It is found in the lung alveoli, where it engulfs the small particles, dead cells or bacteria. Besides this, it also triggers the immune system in case of respiratory pathogens encounter.
  • Kupffer cells: It is found in the liver tissues, which initiate immune responses and mediates hepatic tissue remodelling.
  • Microglia: It is located in the central nervous system, which eliminates the old or dead neurons and control of immunity in the brain.
  • Splenic macrophages: It also called by the names of marginal zone, metallophilic and red pulp macrophages. These are present in the spleen marginal zone, red and white pulp, where it discards the non-functional and old erythrocytes.
  • Testicular macrophages: It is found in the Leydig cells. It converts 25-hydroxycholesterol, an oxysterol to testosterone and also participates in creating an immune-privileged environment in the testis.
  • Cardiac resident macrophages: It participates in electrical conduction via gap junction communication with cardiac myocytes.

Based on Function & Activation

According to the function and activation of macrophages, macrophages categorizes into three subtypes:
M1 macrophages: These are classically-activated macrophages.
M2 macrophages: These are also called as alternatively-activated macrophages that perform the function of wound healing.
Mregs: These are the regulatory macrophages that control the activity of other immune cells.

Macrophages show substantial heterogeneity among each other by the following factors:

  • Different sites of location
  • The difference in their morphology
  • A pattern of pathogens recognition they employ
  • Levels of inflammatory cytokines (i.e. IL-1, IL-6, tumour necrosis factor-alpha) produced by them

Thus, the heterogeneity in macrophage is inherited from the precursors of monocytes, from which they differentiated and specialized in doing distinct functions.

Mechanism of Macrophage

A macrophage is an immune cell that kills the pathogen through series of steps mentioned below:

Antigen Recognition

Macrophages recognize the antigens like bacteria and other organisms through its receptors system that also called toll-like receptors (TLRs). These receptors suspiciously identify the traits of pathogens like lipopolysaccharides, nucleic acids or extracellular proteins like flagellin from bacterial flagella, and then specifically binds to it.

The binding of an antigen with the TLRs will produce an alarming signal for the other immune cells to be activated and fight against it.

Microbial Killing

Macrophages primarily mediate innate immune responses against bacteria, not viruses. Macrophage alone cannot kill the viral pathogen, T lymphocytes produce a defensive mechanism against the virus to kills it. Therefore, the killed virus particles are then eliminated by the macrophages.

Thus, to destroy a bacterial cell macrophage employ either of the two mechanisms of pathogen killing (oxygen-dependent or oxygen-independent). After recognition, macrophages get activated and show more tendency to phagocytose the pathogen. It also releases inflammatory factors.

Oxygen-independent Killing

It is the mechanism, in which the bacterial invaders are ingested into the macrophage in the form of vesicles (Phagosome).

Role of macrophages

Later, the lysosomes (vesicles containing hydrolytic enzymes) fuse with the phagosome encircling the pathogens, which will result in the degradation of the target organism. It uses a series of enzymes to destroy a bacterial cell:

  1. First produces electrically charged proteins to destroy the cell membrane.
  2. Secondly uses lysozymes to dissolve the bacterial cell wall.
  3. Then it makes the use of lactoferrins to remove essential iron from bacteria.
  4. At last, the lysosomal proteolytic and hydrolytic enzymes digest the proteins of destroyed bacteria.

Finally, the bacterial cell turns into small particles that are released out of the cell via fusion of the residual body with the cell membrane.

Oxygen-dependent Killing

By superoxide dismutase

Once macrophage engulfs the bacteria, it starts consuming more oxygen that results in a respiratory burst. As a result, macrophage produces reactive oxygen species (ROS) or superoxides, which acts as an oxygen-rich antibacterial substance. The superoxide converts into hydrogen peroxide and singlet oxygen by the enzymatic activity of superoxide dismutase. Superoxide also reacts with the hydrogen peroxide to produce hydroxyl radicals, which assist in killing the invading microbe.

By nitric oxide synthase

Once macrophage activates, it starts increasing the production of nitric oxide synthase to facilitate the formation of peroxynitrite radicals by the reaction of nitric oxide with hydrogen peroxide.

By myeloperoxidase

This enzyme complex found neutrophil granules. Hence, when the neutrophil granules come in contact with a phagosome to form phagolysosome and start releasing myeloperoxidase. This enzyme forms an extremely toxic antibacterial substance (hypochlorite) by using hydrogen peroxide and chlorine.

The radicals formed by these enzyme systems can be detrimental to both the pathogen and the cell itself, so these are found within the cellular compartments. Therefore, a method of killing the invading microbes by using ROS and RNS molecules called oxygen-dependent intracellular killing.

Present Antigen to T cell

In addition to the oxidative radicals, macrophage also releases cytotoxic materials like TNF-alpha, IL-1, 8, 12 to produce an inflammatory response. Finally, a macrophage (an antigen-presenting cell) will produce MHC class II molecules (present antigens to TH cells). Hence, macrophages and T lymphocytes coordinate to fight against the foreign body.


Macrophages performs a crucial role in regulating immunity and stimulating immune responses.

  1. It facilitates a defensive role by exhibiting the property of phagocytosis, by which they can engulf and kill the invaders encountered.
  2. Macrophage plays a pivotal role in lymphocytes activation (T and B cells) by recognizing the allogenic cells.


Macrophages are another kind of scavenger cells that is the mature form of monocytes, produced by the stem cells of bone marrow and circulate through the blood. Monocytes differentiates into macrophages in different body tissues. Macrophages can be compared with the porous filter that traps the target organism.

Macrophages recognize and ingest foreign particles by digesting or dissolving the microbial components of the target organism. Therefore, we can conclude that macrophages play a significant role to mount a more effective defense by not only in eliminating pathogens directly but also act as antigen-presenting cells.

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