Macrophage and monocyte subsets as new therapeutic targets in cancer immunotherapy

B. Fendl, A. S. Berghoff, M. Preusser, B. Maier

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


The introduction of immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs) for the treatment of solid cancers dramatically turned the tables in clinical routine. However, therapy success is still limited with up to 70% of non-responders in patients with ICI treatment. Traditionally, most immunotherapy approaches aim at directly stimulating anti-tumor T cell responses. More recently, tumor-associated macrophages have come into focus due to their predominance in solid tumors. Intensive cross-talk with tumor cells and immune as well as stromal cells within the tumor microenvironment can drive either pro- or anti-tumorigenic macrophage phenotypes. In turn, tumor-associated macrophages strongly shape cytokine and metabolite levels in the tumor microenvironment and thus are central players in anti-tumor immunity. Thus, ambivalent macrophage populations exist which raises therapeutic possibilities to either enhance or diminish their functionality. However, molecular signals controlling tumor-associated macrophage polarization are incompletely understood. Gaining in-depth understanding of monocyte/macrophage properties both in circulation and within distinct tumor microenvironments would (i) allow the development of new therapeutic approaches, and (ii) could additionally aid our understanding of underlying mechanisms limiting current therapy with the option of combinatorial therapies to increase efficacy. In this review, we summarize recent data addressing heterogeneity of tumor-associated macrophage populations and we discuss strategies to target macrophages using known molecular pathways with the potential for straight-forward clinical application.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100776
JournalESMO Open
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • immune checkpoint blockade
  • immunotherapy
  • macrophages
  • monocytes
  • tumor-associated macrophages


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