Mass E, Nimmerjahn F, Kierdorf K, Schlizter A

2023 Nature Reviews Immunology



Macrophages are innate immune cells that form a 3D network in all our tissues, where they phagocytose dying cells and cell debris, immune complexes, bacteria and other waste products. Simultaneously, they produce growth factors and signalling molecules — such activities not only promote host protection in response to invading microorganisms but are also crucial for organ development and homeostasis. There is mounting evidence of macrophages orchestrating fundamental physiological processes, such as blood vessel formation, adipogenesis, metabolism and central and peripheral neuronal function. In parallel, novel methodologies have led to the characterization of tissue-specific macrophages, with distinct subpopulations of these cells showing different developmental trajectories, transcriptional programmes and life cycles. Here, we summarize our growing knowledge of macrophage diversity and how macrophage subsets orchestrate tissue development and function. We further interrelate macrophage ontogeny with their core functions across tissues, that is, the signalling events within the macrophage niche that may control organ functionality during development, homeostasis and ageing. Finally, we highlight the open questions that will need to be addressed by future studies to better understand the tissue-specific functions of distinct macrophage subsets.