Macrophages and liposomes in inflammatory disease: Friends or foes?

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Liposome-encapsulated corticosteroids have shown to exert strong beneficial effects in inflammatory diseases, such as arthritis and cancer. To extend the clinical applicability of these potent nanomedicines, the therapeutic effect of dexamethasone phosphate loaded long-circulating liposomes (LCL-DXP) was evaluated in animal models of multiple sclerosis (MS) and Crohn's disease (CD).In mice with experimental autoimmune encephalitis (EAE), a model for MS, treatment with LCL-DXP, but not free DXP, resulted in a decrease in disease activity when compared to PBS treated mice. In contrast, in mice with chronic DSS-induced colitis, a model for CD, treatment with LCL-DXP did not induce an improvement, but in fact worsened the fecal blood loss after treatment, indicating an aggravation of the disease. It is hypothesized that modulation of macrophage polarization towards a M2 phenotype underlies the efficacy of corticosteroid-based drug delivery systems, which is supported by the presented data. On the one hand, M1 polarized macrophages are part of the pathogenesis of MS; the modulation to M2-polarization by LCL-DXP is therefore beneficial. On the other hand, M1-polarized intestinal macrophages fulfill a protective and inflammation-suppressing role in intestinal homeostasis; changing their phenotype to M2 causes reduced protection to invading microorganisms, leading to a more severe intestinal inflammation. These findings therefore indicate that the interplay between the specific phenotype of macrophages and the specific inflammatory context of the inflammatory disease in question may be an important determining factor in the therapeutic applicability of liposomal corticosteroids in inflammatory disease.

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