It has been recently demonstrated that, in addition to function as macrophage precursors, monocytes have the capacity to differentiate into dendritic cells (DCs), and therefore they play an essential role in both the innate and adaptive immunity. Monocytes display a remarkable functional diversity, allowing them to perform multiple defense functions, from pathogen elimination by phagocytosis, to the induction of antigen-specific T cell responses. This functional potential relies essentially in their developmental plasticity, permitting monocytes to differentiate into different subsets of macrophages and DCs. Although recent data suggest that the acquisition of functional specialization by monocytes is controlled by chemotactic, activation and differentiation factors, how monocyte differentiation occurs under physiological conditions remains largely unknown.
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