Delivery strategies to control inflammatory response: Modulating M1–M2 polarization in tissue engineering applications

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Macrophages are key players in many physiological scenarios including tissue homeostasis. In response to injury, typically the balance between macrophage sub-populations shifts from an M1 phenotype (pro-inflammatory) to an M2 phenotype (anti-inflammatory). In tissue engineering scenarios, after implantation of any device, it is desirable to exercise control on this M1–M2 progression and to ensure a timely and smooth transition from the inflammatory to the healing stage. In this review, we briefly introduce the current state of knowledge regarding macrophage function and nomenclature. Next, we discuss the use of controlled release strategies to tune the balance between the M1 and M2 phenotypes in the context of tissue engineering applications. We discuss recent literature related to the release of anti-inflammatory molecules (including nucleic acids) and the sequential release of cytokines to promote a timely M1–M2 shift. In addition, we describe the use of macrophages as controlled release agents upon stimulation by physical and/or mechanical cues provided by scaffolds. Moreover, we discuss current and future applications of “smart” implantable scaffolds capable of controlling the cascade of biochemical events related to healing and vascularization. Finally, we provide our opinion on the current challenges and the future research directions to improve our understanding of the M1–M2 macrophage balance and properly exploit it in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine applications.

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