Pekayvaz K, Gold C, Hoseinpour P, Engel A, Martinez-Navarro A, Eivers L, Coletti R, Joppich M, Dionísio F, Kaiser R, Tomas L, Janjic A, Knott M, Mehari F, Polewka V, Kirschner M, Boda A, Nicolai L, Schulz H, Titova A, Kilani B, Lorenz M, Fingerle-Rowson G, Bucala R, Enard W, Zimmer R, Weber C, Libby P, Schulz C, Massberg S, Stark K.

ABSTRACT: Maladaptive, non-resolving inflammation contributes to chronic inflammatory diseases such as atherosclerosis. Because macrophages remove necrotic cells, defective macrophage programs can promote chronic inflammation with persistent tissue injury. Here, we investigated the mechanisms sustaining vascular macrophages. Intravital imaging revealed a spatiotemporal macrophage niche across vascular beds alongside mural cells (MCs)—pericytes and smooth muscle cells. Single-cell transcriptomics, co-culture, and genetic deletion experiments revealed MC-derived expression of the chemokines CCL2 and MIF, which actively preserved macrophage survival and their homeostatic functions. In atherosclerosis, this positioned macrophages in viable plaque areas, away from the necrotic core, and maintained a homeostatic macrophage phenotype. Disruption of this MC-macrophage unit via MC-specific deletion of these chemokines triggered detrimental macrophage relocalizing, exacerbated plaque necrosis, inflammation, and atheroprogression. In line, CCL2 inhibition at advanced stages of atherosclerosis showed detrimental effects. This work presents a MC-driven safeguard toward maintaining the homeostatic vascular macrophage niche.