Therapeutic potential of carbohydrates as regulators of macrophage activation

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It is well established for a broad range of disease states, including cancer and Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection, that pathogenesis is bolstered by polarisation of macrophages towards an anti-inflammatory phenotype, known as M2. As these innate immune cells are relatively long-lived, their re-polarisation to pro-inflammatory, phagocytic and bactericidal “classically activated” M1 macrophages is an attractive therapeutic approach. On the other hand, there are scenarios where the resolving inflammation, wound healing and tissue remodelling properties of M2 macrophages are beneficial – for example the successful introduction of biomedical implants. Although there are numerous endogenous and exogenous factors that have an impact on the macrophage polarisation spectrum, this review will focus specifically on prominent macrophage-modulating carbohydrate motifs with a view towards highlighting structure–function relationships and therapeutic potential.

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