Macrophages make me sick: How macrophage activation states influence sickness behavior

Morgan L. Moon, Leslie K. McNeil, Gregory G. Freund

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The macrophage (MΦ) is an essential cellular first responder in the innate immune system, sensing, alerting, removing and destroying intrinsic and extrinsic pathogens. While congenital aplasia of granulocytes, T or B lymphocytes leads to serious disease, lack of MΦs is incompatible with life. The MΦ, however, is not a monomorphic entity. These constructers, repairers and defenders of the body are diverse in form and function. What controls MΦ phenotype is beginning to be understood and involves a complex interplay of origination, location and microenvironment. Common to all MΦ developmental pathways are pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines. MΦs respond to these bioactives in distinct ways developing recently recognized activation phenotypes that canonically support bacterial clearance (classical activation), parasite defense/tissue repair (alternative activation) and anti-inflammation (deactivation). Critically, the same cytokines which orchestrate immune defense and homeostasis dramatically impact sense of well being and cognition by eliciting sickness symptoms. Such behaviors are the manifestation of pro/anti-inflammatory cytokine action in the brain and are a direct consequence of MΦ function. This review describes the " new" archetypal MΦ activation states, delineates microglia phenotypic plasticity and explores the importance of these macrophage activation states to sickness behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1431-1440
Number of pages10
Issue number10
StatePublished - Nov 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Cytokine
  • Immunobehavior
  • Innate immunity
  • Microglia
  • Neuroimmunity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


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