Open Access Research article

Alveolar macrophages of GM-CSF knockout mice exhibit mixed M1 and M2 phenotypes

Heidi Dalrymple1, Barbara P Barna1, Anagha Malur1, Achut G Malur2, Mani S Kavuru1 and Mary Jane Thomassen1*

Author Affiliations

1 Program in Lung Cell Biology and Translational Research, Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care Medicine and Sleep Medicine, East Carolina University, Brody School of Medicine, 3E-149 Brody Medical Sciences Building, Greenville, NC 27834, USA

2 Department of Microbiology and Immunology, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC, USA

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BMC Immunology 2013, 14:41  doi:10.1186/1471-2172-14-41

Published: 17 September 2013



Activin A is a pleiotrophic regulatory cytokine, the ablation of which is neonatal lethal. Healthy human alveolar macrophages (AMs) constitutively express activin A, but AMs of patients with pulmonary alveolar proteinosis (PAP) are deficient in activin A. PAP is an autoimmune lung disease characterized by neutralizing autoantibodies to Granulocyte-Macrophage Colony Stimulating Factor (GM-CSF). Activin A can be stimulated, however, by GM-CSF treatment of AMs in vitro. To further explore pulmonary activin A regulation, we examined AMs in bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) from wild-type C57BL/6 compared to GM-CSF knockout mice which exhibit a PAP-like histopathology. Both human PAP and mouse GM-CSF knockout AMs are deficient in the transcription factor, peroxisome proliferator activated receptor gamma (PPARγ).


In sharp contrast to human PAP, activin A mRNA was elevated in mouse GM-CSF knockout AMs, and activin A protein was increased in BAL fluid. Investigation of potential causative factors for activin A upregulation revealed intrinsic overexpression of IFNγ, a potent inducer of the M1 macrophage phenotype, in GM-CSF knockout BAL cells. IFNγ mRNA was not elevated in PAP BAL cells. In vitro studies confirmed that IFNγ stimulated activin A in wild-type AMs while antibody to IFNγ reduced activin A in GM-CSF knockout AMs. Both IFNγ and Activin A were also reduced in GM-CSF knockout mice in vivo after intratracheal instillation of lentivirus-PPARγ compared to control lentivirus vector. Examination of other M1 markers in GM-CSF knockout mice indicated intrinsic elevation of the IFNγ-regulated gene, inducible Nitrogen Oxide Synthetase (iNOS), CCL5, and interleukin (IL)-6 compared to wild-type. The M2 markers, IL-10 and CCL2 were also intrinsically elevated.


Data point to IFNγ as the primary upregulator of activin A in GM-CSF knockout mice which in addition, exhibit a unique mix of M1-M2 macrophage phenotypes.

Interferon gamma; Activin A; Alveolar macrophages