Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from Lipids in Health and Disease and BioMed Central.

Open Access Open Badges Research

M2 macrophages exhibit higher sensitivity to oxLDL-induced lipotoxicity than other monocyte/macrophage subtypes

Suleiman A Isa, José S Ruffino, Maninder Ahluwalia, Andrew W Thomas, Keith Morris and Richard Webb*

Author Affiliations

Cardiff School of Health Sciences, University of Wales Institute Cardiff, UWIC Llandaf Campus, CARDIFF CF5 2YB, UK

For all author emails, please log on.

Lipids in Health and Disease 2011, 10:229  doi:10.1186/1476-511X-10-229

Published: 6 December 2011



In obesity, phenotypic switches occur in macrophage populations such that the predominantly M2-polarised anti-inflammatory state seen in lean individuals changes to a predominantly M1-polarised pro-inflammatory state in those who are obese. However, the mechanisms by which these phenotypic shifts occur have not yet been fully elucidated.


The effects of oxLDL (1-40 μg/ml; 24 h) on several parameters relevant to the Unfolded Protein Response (UPR)-mediated lipotoxic effects of oxLDL (disruption of ER Ca2+ handling; activation of the UPR transcription factor XBP-1; upregulation of the UPR target genes BiP and CHOP; apoptosis; cell viability) were investigated in human primary monocyte-derived macrophages, and also in monocyte-macrophages derived from the THP-1 monocytic cell line. A consistent pattern was observed: M2-polarised macrophages were more sensitive to the lipotoxic effects of oxLDL than either non-polarised macrophages or non-differentiated monocytic cells. Specifically, M2-polarised macrophages were the only cell type to undergo significantly increased apoptosis (Primary cells: 1.23 ± 0.01 basal; THP-1-derived: 1.97 ± 0.12 basal; P < 0.05 in both cases) and decreased cell viability (Primary cells: 0.79 ± 0.04 basal; THP-1-derived: 0.67 ± 0.02 basal; P < 0.05 in both cases) when exposed to oxLDL levels similar to those seen in overweight individuals (ie. 1 μg/ml).


We propose that the enhanced susceptibility of M2-polarised macrophages to lipotoxicity seen in the present in vitro study could, over time, contribute to the phenotypic shift seen in obese individuals in vivo. This is because a higher degree of oxLDL-induced lipotoxic cell death within M2 macrophages could contribute to a decrease in numbers of M2 cells, and thus a relative increase in proportion of non-M2 cells, within macrophage populations. Given the pro-inflammatory characteristics of a predominantly M1-polarised state, the data presented here may constitute a useful contribution to our understanding of the origin of the pro-inflammatory nature of obesity, and of the pathogenesis of obesity-associated inflammatory disorders such as Type 2 Diabetes and atherosclerosis.

alternative M2 monocyte/macrophage polarisation; UPR; oxLDL; lipotoxicity