Macrophages play a pivotal role in the adult inflammatory response to wounding. They are directly responsible for cellular debridement and, by providing a source of growth factors and cytokines, they recruit other inflammatory and fibroblastic cells and influence cell proliferation and tissue remodelling. In this paper we investigate the role of macrophages in clearing areas of programmed cell death in the developing embryo and also their role in embryonic and foetal wound healing. Immunocytochemistry using the monocyte/macrophage-specific monoclonal antibody, F4/80, reveals a close association between areas of programmed cell death in the remodelling interdigital regions of the mouse footplate and of F4/80-positive cells, suggesting that monocyte-derived macrophages, and not locally recruited fibroblastic cells, as previously believed, are responsible for phagocytosing and clearing areas of interdigital apoptosis. Our studies of wound healing reveal that macrophages are not recruited to, and therefore cannot be playing an active role in the healing of, excisional wounds made in the mouse embryo at any stage up until E14.5. Beyond this transition stage we see a significant recruitment of macrophages within 12 hours of wounding. We find that macrophages can be attracted to wounds in earlier embryos if the wound results in significant cell death such as after burning.

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