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Event Title

Hepatic macrophages (Kupffer Cells), Activation and Recruitment
Short name: Hepatic macrophages (Kupffer Cells), Activation and Recruitment

Key Event Overview

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AOPs Including This Key Event

AOP Name Event Type Essentiality
Protein Alkylation leading to Liver Fibrosis KE Strong

Taxonomic Applicability

Name Scientific Name Evidence Links
human Homo sapiens Strong NCBI
human and other cells in culture Strong
mouse Mus musculus Strong NCBI
Rattus norvegicus Rattus norvegicus Strong NCBI

Level of Biological Organization

Biological Organization

How this Key Event works

Kupffer cells (KCs) are a specialized population of macrophages that reside in the liver; they were first described by Carl Wilhelm von Kupffer (1829–1902). [1] KCs constitute 80%-90% of the tissue macrophages in the reticuloendothelial system and account for approximately 15% of the total liver cell population [2] They play an important role in normal physiology and homeostasis as well as participating in the acute and chronic responses of the liver to toxic compounds. Activation of KCs results in the release of an array of inflammatory mediators, growth factors, and reactive oxygen species. This activation appears to modulate acute hepatocyte injury as well as chronic liver responses including hepatic cancer. Understanding the role KCs play in these diverse responses is key to understanding mechanisms of liver injury.[3] Besides the release of inflammatory mediators including cytokines, chemokines, lysosomal and proteolytic enzymes KCs are a main source of TGF-β1 (transforming growth factor-beta 1, the most potent profibrogenic cytokine). In addition latent TGF-β1 can be activated by KC-secreted matrix metalloproteinase 9 (MMP-9). [4] [5] through the release of biologically active substances that promote the pathogenic process. Activated KCs also release ROS like superoxide generated by NOX (NADPH oxidase), thus contributing to oxidative stress. Oxidative stress also activates a variety of transcription factors like NF-κB, PPAR-γ leading to an increased gene expression for the production of growth factors, inflammatory cytokines and chemokines. KCs express TNF-α (Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha), IL-1 (Interleukin-1) and MCP-1 (monocyte-chemoattractant protein-1), all being mitogens and chemoattractants for hepatic stellate ceells (HSCs) and induce the expression of PDGF receptors on HSCs which enhances cell proliferation. Expressed TNF-α, TRAIL (TNF-related apoptosis-inducing ligand), and FasL (Fas Ligand) are not only pro-inflammatory active but also capable of inducing death receptor-mediated apoptosis in hepatocytes[6] [7][3] Under conditions of oxidative stress macrophages are further activated which leads to a more enhanced inflammatory response that again further activates KCs though cytokines (Interferon gamma (IFNγ), granulocyte macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF), TNF-α), bacterial lipopolysaccharides, extracellular matrix proteins, and other chemical mediators. [8] [9] Besides KCs, the resident hepatic macrophages, infiltrating bone marrow-derived macrophages, originating from circulating monocytes are recruited to the injured liver via chemokine signals. KCs appear essential for sensing tissue injury and initiating inflammatory responses, while infiltrating Ly-6C+ monocyte-derived macrophages are linked to chronic inflammation and fibrogenesis. The profibrotic functions of KCs (HSC activation via paracrine mechanisms) during chronic hepatic injury remain functionally relevant, even if the infiltration of additional inflammatory monocytes is blocked via pharmacological inhibition of the chemokine CCL2 [10] [11] KC activation and macrophage recruitment are two separate events and both are necessary for fibrogenesis, but as they occur in parallel, they can be summarised as one KE. Probably there is a threshold of KC activation and release above which liver damage is induced. Pre-treatment with gadolinium chloride (GdCl), which inhibits KC function, reduced both hepatocyte and sinusoidal epithelial cell injury, as well as decreased the numbers of macrophages appearing in hepatic lesions and inhibited TGF-β1 mRNA expression in macrophages. Experimental inhibition of KC function or depletion of KCs appeared to protect against chemical-induced liver injury.[12]

How it is Measured or Detected

Kupffer cell activation can be measured by means of expressed cytokines, e.g. tissue levels of TNF-a [13], IL-6 expression, measured by immunoassays or Elisa (offered by various companies), soluble CD163 [14] [15] or increase in expression of Kupffer cell marker genes such as Lyz, Gzmb, and Il1b, (Genome U34A Array, Affymetrix); [16]

Evidence Supporting Taxonomic Applicability

Human: [17][18][19] Rat: [5] Mouse: [20]


  1. Haubrich, W.S. (2004), Kupffer of Kupffer cells, Gastroenterology, vol. 127, no. 1, p. 16.
  2. Bouwens, L. et al. (1986), Quantitation, tissue distribution and proliferation kinetics of Kupffer cells in normal rat liver, Hepatology, vol. 6, no. 6, pp. 718-722.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Roberts, R.A. et al. (2007), Role of the Kupffer cell in mediating hepatic toxicity and carcinogenesis, Toxicol Sci, vol. 96, no. 1, pp. 2-15.
  4. Winwood, P.J., and M.J. Arthur (1993), Kupffer cells: their activation and role in animal models of liver injury and human liver disease, Semin Liver Dis, vol. 13, no. 1, pp. 50-59.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Luckey, S.W., and D.R. Petersen (2001), Activation of Kupffer cells during the course of carbon tetrachloride-induced liver injury and fibrosis in rats, Exp Mol Pathol, vol. 71, no. 3, pp. 226-240.
  6. Guo, J. and S.L. Friedman (2007), Hepatic Fibrogenesis, Semin Liver Dis, vol. 27, no. 4, pp. 413-426.
  7. Friedman, S.L. (2002), Hepatic Fibrosis-Role of Hepatic Stellate Cell Activation, MedGenMed, vol. 4, no. 3, pp. 27.
  8. Kolios, G., V. Valatas and E. Kouroumalis (2006), Role of Kupffer Cells in the Pathogenesis of Liver Disease, World J.Gastroenterol, vol. 12, no. 46, pp. 7413-7420.
  9. Kershenobich Stalnikowitz, D. and A.B. Weisssbrod (2003), Liver Fibrosis and Inflammation. A Review, Annals of Hepatology, vol. 2, no. 4, pp.159-163.
  10. Baeck, C. et al. (2012), Pharmacological inhibition of the chemokine CCL2 (MCP-1) diminishes liver macrophage infiltration and steatohepatitis in chronic hepatic injury, Gut, vol. 61, no. 3, pp.416–426.
  11. Tacke, F. and H.W. Zimmermann (2014), Macrophage heterogeneity in liver injury and fibrosis, J Hepatol, vol. 60, no. 5, pp. 1090-1096.
  12. Ide, M. et al. (2005), Effects of gadolinium chloride (GdCl(3)) on the appearance of macrophage populations and fibrogenesis in thioacetamide-induced rat hepatic lesions, J. Comp. Path, vol. 133, no. 2-3, pp. 92–102.
  13. Vajdova, K. et al. (2004), Ischemic preconditioning and intermittent clamping improve murine hepatic microcirculation and Kupffer cell function after ischemic injury, Liver Transpl, vol. 10, no. 4, pp. 520–528.
  14. Grønbaek, H. et al. (2012), Soluble CD163, a marker of Kupffer cell activation, is related to portal hypertension in patients with liver cirrhosis, Aliment Pharmacol Ther, vol 36, no. 2, pp. 173-180.
  15. Møller, H.J. (2012), Soluble CD163.Scand J Clin Lab Invest, vol. 72, no. 1, pp. 1-13.
  16. Takahara, T et al. (2006), Gene expression profiles of hepatic cell-type specific marker genes in progression of liver fibrosis, World J Gastroenterol, vol. 12, no. 40, pp. 6473-6499.
  17. Su, G.L. et al. (2002), Activation of human and mouse Kupffer cells by lipopolysaccharide is mediated by CD14, Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol, vol. 283, no. 3, pp. G640-645.
  18. Kegel, V. et al. (2015), Subtoxic concentrations of hepatotoxic drugs lead to Kupffer cell activation in a human in vitro liver model: an approach to study DILI, Mediators Inflamm, 2015:640631, http://doi.org/10.1155/2015/640631.
  19. Boltjes, A. et al. (2014), The role of Kupffer cells in hepatitis B and hepatitis C virus infections, J Hepatol, vol. 61, no. 3, pp. 660-671.
  20. Dalton, S.R. et al. (2009), Carbon tetrachloride-induced liver damage in asialoglycoprotein receptor-deficient mice, Biochem Pharmacol, vol. 77, no. 7, pp. 1283-1290.