Macrophages are highly active and mobile cells that function at multiple levels within the innate immune system. Derived from circulating monocytes, macrophages police the intimal and medial layers below the endothelium of vessels, capturing pathogens, dead cells, and cellular debris. When necessary, they emit an array of chemical messengers to the cells around them to orchestrate changes as part of an immune response. Macrophages are central to vascular inflammation and their role in atherosclerosis was recently reviewed in detail.
In healthy individuals, there are few, scattered resident macrophages in all tissues. Part of their function is to maintain sterility in their immediate region by migrating through the tissue and ingesting and killing pathogens. Macrophages are uniquely designed to capture pathogens because their surfaces bristle with receptors that specifically detect, bind, and internalize those targets. Macrophages also are coated with receptors to capture and ingest dead cells and a wide array of cellular debris that they find in their vicinity.
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