Macrophages in Nematode Infection: Regulators, Effectors or Healers?

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Sch of Biological Sciences


Macrophages are cells found in abundance in all tissues of the body that participate in a wide range of essentials functions through their ability to respond to signals in the local environment. T cells, which orchestrate the immune response to infection, are a key source of these signals. In response to microbial infections, T cells produce signals that ?classically-activate? macrophages to become very effective at killing intracellular bacteria. In contrast, when an individual is infected with worms T cells produce signals that ?alternatively-activate? macrophages. The function of alternatively activated macrophages (AAMac) is poorly understood but data suggests they are involved in dampening down inflammation and mediating wound repair. The possibility that they also act as cells that can kill extra-cellular parasites such as worms has not been directly addressed. AAMac have now been found in a variety of chronic disease conditions including asthma, lung fibrosis and cancer but their role has not been clearly defined. We propose to address 1) whether AAMac have direct anti-worm function, 2) whether they induce regulatory pathways associated with chronic infection and 3) whether they mediate repair of wounds caused by tissue-migrating worms. By focussing on the normal function of these cells during worm infection we hope to reveal the appropriate roles of these cells and thus address which of products of AAMac may be useful as targets in treatment of chronic diseases. These studies will also help in the design of vaccines against worms that cause debilitating infections in millions of people in the tropics.

Technical Summary

Macrophages are a key effector cells during innate immunity and are important targets of T-cell derived cytokines during adaptive immune responses. Macrophages exposed to Th1 cytokines or microbial signals have been termed classically-activated macrophages (CAMac), while those that respond to the Th2 cytokines IL-4 and IL-13 are referred to as alternatively-activated (AAMac). The essential role of CAMac in the control of intracellular pathogens is well documented and has been extensively researched in vitro and in vivo. In contrast far less is known about AAMac function, especially in vivo. Recent data suggests AAMac have both regulatory and wound healing properties but their roles as effectors against extra-cellular pathogens is still speculative. We propose to use helminth infection models to directly address these functions in vivo. We aim to address 1) whether AAMac have direct anti-parasitic function, 2) whether they induce regulatory pathways associated with chronic infection and 3) whether they mediate tissue repair associated with tissue-migrating helminths. The AAMac vs. CAMac paradigm is unlikely to prove sufficient to explain the many functions of macrophages during Th2 mediated immune responses. Thus, our final aim is to address the in vivo signals beyond Th2 cytokines that are necessary to mediate these functions. For each of the three functional settings to be studied ? effector mechanisms, regulation, and healing ? a common set of experimental approaches will be employed. As a starting point, we will use selective depletion of macrophages at specific time points during infection. In many situations we will be able to target depletion to a particular site as well. In parallel, we will use mice in which the IL-4Ralpha is absent only on macrophages and granulocytes allowing us to address the requirement for alternative activation. Additional macrophage-specific KOs, specific inhibitors and neutralizing antibodies and reconstitution/rescue experiments will address whether a particular macrophage product or signaling pathway is required. Finally mixed bone marrow chimeric mice, will allow us to address the balance of AAMac vs. CAMac that determine disease outcome as well as the importance of antigen presentation by AAMac.


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Description Programme Grant
Amount £1,595,000 (GBP)
Funding ID MR/K01207X/1 
Organisation Medical Research Council (MRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2013 
End 01/2018
Description Project grant as part of an international network
Amount £350,000 (GBP)
Organisation European Commission 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 03/2010 
End 02/2014
Description Wellcome Trust Project Grant (Induction of tolerogenic dendritic cells by the laminated layer of Echinococcus granulosus)
Amount £182,777 (GBP)
Funding ID 092752 
Organisation Wellcome Trust 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2010 
End 03/2015
Description SOCS 
Organisation University of Aberdeen
Department Institute of Applied Health Sciences
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution provided in vivo models to study SOCS proteins in macrophages
Collaborator Contribution added greater understanding to our research on macrophage activation
Impact Research article published in Journal of Leukocyte Biology
Start Year 2008
Description Uruguay 
Organisation University of the Republic
Country Uruguay 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution intellectual input and joint grant writing
Collaborator Contribution Joint funding resulted in a PhD student coming from Uruguay to work in my lab for 9 months.
Impact A Royal Society Joint International project grant. Publication: 18000958
Start Year 2007
Description Newspaper and Magazine articles 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact A press release on our paper in PLOS Biology was printed in editions of several Scottish Newspapers as well as New Scientist magazine. Many more online journals covered the story.

None yet that we are aware of
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
Description SciencePaperPodCast 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact PodCast is available on iTunes in which our Science paper is discussed. Number of downloads is unknown but many people mentioned hearing it.

Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011