Phenotypic alteration of macrophages during osteoarthritis: a systematic review

Xiaobo Zhu, Chien Wei Lee, Hongtao Xu, Yu Fan Wang, Patrick S.H. Yung, Yangzi Jiang, Oscar K. Lee*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Objective: Osteoarthritis (OA) has long been regarded as a disease of cartilage degeneration, whereas mounting evidence implies that low-grade inflammation contributes to OA. Among inflammatory cells involved, macrophages play a crucial role and are mediated by the local microenvironment to exhibit different phenotypes and polarization states. Therefore, we conducted a systematic review to uncover the phenotypic alterations of macrophages during OA and summarized the potential therapeutic interventions via modulating macrophages. Methods: A systematic review of multiple databases (PubMed, Web of Science, ScienceDirect, Medline) was performed up to February 29, 2020. Included articles were discussed and evaluated by two independent reviewers. Relevant information was analyzed with a standardized and well-designed template. Results: A total of 28 studies were included. Results were subcategorized into two sections depending on sources from human tissue/cell-based studies (12 studies) and animal experiments (16 studies). The overall observation indicated that M1 macrophages elevated in both synovium and circulation during OA development, along with lower numbers of M2 macrophages. The detailed alterations of macrophages in both synovium and circulation were listed and analyzed. Furthermore, interventions against OA via regulating macrophages in animal models were highlighted. Conclusion: This study emphasized the importance of the phenotypic alterations of macrophages in OA development. The classical phenotypic subcategory of M1 and M2 macrophages was questionable due to controversial and conflicting results. Therefore, further efforts are needed to categorize macrophages in an exhaustive manner and to use advanced technologies to identify the individual roles of each subtype of macrophages in OA.

Original languageEnglish
Article number110
JournalArthritis Research and Therapy
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Immunomodulation
  • Innate immunity
  • Macrophage
  • Osteoarthritis


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