Macrophages are highly heterogeneous and plastic immune cells with peculiar characteristics dependent on their origin and microenvironment. Following pathogen infection or damage, circulating monocytes can be recruited in different tissues where they differentiate into macrophages. Stimuli present in the surrounding milieu induce the polarisation of macrophages towards a pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory profile, mediating inflammatory or homeostatic responses, respectively. However, macrophages can also derive from embryonic hematopoietic precursors and reside in specific tissues, actively participating in the development and the homeostasis in physiological conditions. Pancreatic islet resident macrophages are present from the prenatal stages onwards and show specific surface markers and functions. They localise in close proximity to β-cells, being exquisite sensors of their secretory ability and viability. Over the years, the crucial role of macrophages in β-cell differentiation and homeostasis has been highlighted. In addition, macrophages are emerging as central players in the initiation of autoimmune insulitis in type 1 diabetes and in the low-grade chronic inflammation characteristic of obesity and type 2 diabetes pathogenesis. The present work reviews the current knowledge in the field, with a particular focus on the mechanisms of communication between β-cells and macrophages that have been described so far.
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