The metabolic axis of macrophage and immune cell polarization

Spencer A. Hobson-Gutierrez, Carlos Carmona-Fontaine

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The extracellular space of solid tumors ranges from being well-nurtured to being completely ischemic and can serve as a source of intratumoral heterogeneity, determining the behavior and molecular profiles of malignant and stromal cells. Here, we discuss how the metabolic tumor microenvironment modulates the phenotypes of the immune cells that infiltrate tumors, with an emphasis on tumor-associated macrophages. These cells constitute a diverse population that has pro-tumoral and antiinflammatory properties, and are likened to anti-inflammatory 'M2' macrophages. Recent findings show how different metabolic microenvironments specify an array of phenotypic changes in macrophages. In tumors, extracellular metabolite levels vary predictably according to proximity to the vasculature, and phenotypic changes in tumor-associated macrophages and in other immune cells are also predictable. We speculate that this 'metabolic axis' of macrophage polarization modulates-and is modulated by-the response to inflammatory cues, creating a wide variety of possible phenotypic states. Understanding how extracellular metabolites influence cell phenotypes allows us to predict how tumor-associated macrophages and other tumor cells might change, with the aim of harnessing this predictability for therapy. Overall, we describe an emerging picture in which chemokines, growth factors and the metabolic tumor microenvironment act together to determine the phenotypes of tumor-infiltrating immune cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberdmm034462
JournalDMM Disease Models and Mechanisms
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2018


  • Cancer metabolism
  • Immunometabolism
  • Tumor microenvironment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience (miscellaneous)
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Immunology and Microbiology (miscellaneous)
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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