Macrophages represent a heterogeneous family of white blood cells which are widely distributed throughout the body. They play an essential role in homeostasis during development and throughout adult life, but display considerable plasticity in their response to infection, inflammation, cancer and blood vessel occlusive diseases. This is due to their adaptability in recognition via surface receptors, signalling, altered gene expression and ability to produce products for secretion which affect both their local and systemic environment. Experimental studies in mice have revealed a great deal about the properties and functions of macrophages, but knowledge in humans is markedly deficient, except for monocytes, their precursors in blood, which are readily available for study.
This project will review what is known about major macrophage populations in human tissues such as liver, lung, gut, spleen, brain, and their alterations within tissues in various diseases. New markers are available to characterise cells in situ ties with medical scientists at the Universities of Stellenbosch and Cape Town will be renewed and extended to plan how to exploit the abundant material available locally, in order to advance knowledge through collaboration.