The phenotype of macrophages in atherosclerotic lesions can vary dramatically, from a large lipid laden foam cell to a small inflammatory cell. Classically, the concept of macrophage heterogeneity discriminates between two extremes called either pro-inflammatory M1 macrophages or anti-inflammatory M2 macrophages. Polarisation of plaque macrophages is predominantly determined by the local micro-environment present in the atherosclerotic lesion and is rather more complex than typically described by the M1/M2 paradigm. In this review we will discuss the role of various polarising factors in regulating the phenotypical state of plaque macrophages. We will focus on two main levels of phenotype regulation, one determined by differentiation factors produced in the lesion and the other determined by T-cell-derived polarising cytokines. With foam cell formation being a key characteristic of macrophages during atherosclerosis initiation and progression, these polarisation factors will also be linked to lipid handling of macrophages.
- Macrophage heterogeneity