Macrophages function as control switches of the immune system, providing a balance between proand anti-inflammatory responses. To accomplish this, they develop into different subsets: classically (M1) or alternatively (M2) activated macrophages. Whereas M1 macrophages display a cytotoxic, proinflammatory phenotype, much like the soldiers of The Dark Side of The Force in the Star Wars movies, M2 macrophages, like Jedi fighters, suppress immune and inflammatory responses and participate in wound repair and angiogenesis. Critical to the actions of these divergent or polarized macrophage subpopulations is the regulated release of inflammatory mediators. When properly controlled, M1 macrophages effectively destroy invading pathogens, tumor cells, and foreign materials. However, when M1 activation becomes excessive or uncontrolled, these cells can succumb to The Dark Side, releasing copious amounts of cytotoxic mediators that contribute to disease pathogenesis. The activity of M1 macrophages is countered by The Force of alternatively activated M2 macrophages, which release anti-inflammatory cytokines, growth factors, and mediators involved in extracellular matrix turnover and tissue repair. It is the balance in the production of mediators by these two macrophage subpopulations that ultimately determines the outcome of the tissue response to chemical toxicants.
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