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The role of tumor-associated macrophages in tumor immune evasion.

BACKGROUND: Tumor growth is closely linked to the activities of various cells in the tumor microenvironment (TME), particularly immune cells. During tumor progression, circulating monocytes and macrophages are recruited, altering the TME and accelerating growth. These macrophages adjust their functions in response to signals from tumor and stromal cells. Tumor-associated macrophages (TAMs), similar to M2 macrophages, are key regulators in the TME.

METHODS: We review the origins, characteristics, and functions of TAMs within the TME. This analysis includes the mechanisms through which TAMs facilitate immune evasion and promote tumor metastasis. Additionally, we explore potential therapeutic strategies that target TAMs.

RESULTS: TAMs are instrumental in mediating tumor immune evasion and malignant behaviors. They release cytokines that inhibit effector immune cells and attract additional immunosuppressive cells to the TME. TAMs primarily target effector T cells, inducing exhaustion directly, influencing activity indirectly through cellular interactions, or suppressing through immune checkpoints. Additionally, TAMs are directly involved in tumor proliferation, angiogenesis, invasion, and metastasis. Developing innovative tumor-targeted therapies and immunotherapeutic strategies is currently a promising focus in oncology. Given the pivotal role of TAMs in immune evasion, several therapeutic approaches have been devised to target them. These include leveraging epigenetics, metabolic reprogramming, and cellular engineering to repolarize TAMs, inhibiting their recruitment and activity, and using TAMs as drug delivery vehicles. Although some of these strategies remain distant from clinical application, we believe that future therapies targeting TAMs will offer significant benefits to cancer patients.

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