Monocytes and macrophages are innate immune cells that reside and accumulate in atherosclerotic lesions but also in the healthy and injured heart and brain. The cells and their subsets pursue distinct functions in steady state and disease, and their tenure may range between hours to months. Some subsets are highly inflammatory, while others support tissue repair.

Dr. Matthias Nahrendorf discusses current concepts of cell supply by the hematopoietic system, lineage relationships and systems’ cross talk, highlights open questions, and describes imaging tools for studying monocytes, macrophages and their progenitors.

Key Topics Include:

  • Resident versus bone marrow derived macrophages
  • Roles and phenotypes of heart leukocytes
  • Hematopoiesis and the bone marrow in cardiovascular disease


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Center for Systems Biology
Harvard Medical School

Matthias Nahrendorf, MD PhD, is the Richard Moerschner Endowed Chair at the MGH Research Institute, a Professor for Radiology at Harvard Medical School and a Principal Investigator at the MGH Center for Systems Biology. He also directs the Mouse Imaging Program at MGH. His laboratory focuses on the role of immunity in cardiovascular disease, specifically in atherosclerosis and heart failure. The lab described that after myocardial infarction, the spleen releases a large population of leukocytes that travel to the ischemic heart (Science 2009). Further, his team found that after myocardial infarction, increased sympathetic nerve activity modulates the hematopoietic stem cell niche, activating migration and proliferation of myeloid progenitor cells. This, in turn, accelerated the progression of atherosclerosis (Nature 2012), possibly explaining why secondary infarcts are so common in patients. The laboratory develops and employs imaging approaches to sample biology non-invasively, using MR, nuclear, optical and hybrid imaging. Dr. Nahrendorf is an editorial board member of JACC, Circ Res, European Heart Journal, ATVB, Circulation, Science Translational Medicine, and The Journal of Nuclear Medicine. He was the Chair of the 2017 Atherosclerosis Gordon Conference. He published ~300 articles with an H-index of 94. Dr Nahrendorf received the MGH Research Scholar prize in 2014 and the Basic Research Award of the German Society of Cardiology in 2015.

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