Trypsin, Tryptase, and Thrombin Polarize Macrophages towards a Pro-Fibrotic M2a Phenotype.
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For both wound healing and the formation of a fibrotic lesion, circulating monocytes enter the tissue and differentiate into fibroblast-like cells called fibrocytes and pro-fibrotic M2a macrophages, which together with fibroblasts form scar tissue. Monocytes can also differentiate into classically activated M1 macrophages and alternatively activated M2 macrophages. The proteases thrombin, which is activated during blood clotting, and tryptase, which is released by activated mast cells, potentiate fibroblast proliferation and fibrocyte differentiation, but their effect on macrophages is unknown. Here we report that thrombin, tryptase, and the protease trypsin bias human macrophage differentiation towards a pro-fibrotic M2a phenotype expressing high levels of galectin-3 from unpolarized monocytes, or from M1 and M2 macrophages, and that these effects appear to operate through protease-activated receptors. These results suggest that proteases can initiate scar tissue formation by affecting fibroblasts, fibrocytes, and macrophages.