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Microphage vs. Macrophage: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on January 9, 2024
Microphages, a term rarely used in modern immunology, refers to smaller phagocytic cells, while macrophages are large, versatile immune cells involved in phagocytosis and immune regulation.

Key Differences

Microphage is an older term that was once used to describe smaller phagocytic cells, primarily neutrophils, in the immune system. Macrophages, on the other hand, are large, specialized cells that play a critical role in identifying, engulfing, and destroying pathogens and debris.
Microphages function mainly in the initial stages of the immune response, rapidly attacking pathogens. Macrophages are involved in both the initial response and the later stages of immune response, including tissue repair and the presentation of antigens to T cells.
The activity of microphages is often quick and non-specific, targeting a broad range of pathogens. Macrophages exhibit more complex behaviors, including the ability to present antigens, produce inflammatory mediators, and modulate immune responses.
Microphages, being smaller and less versatile, are limited in their ability to influence the immune response beyond the immediate phagocytic activity. Macrophages are central to both innate and adaptive immunity, influencing the overall direction and strength of the immune response.
In modern immunology, the term microphage is seldom used, with a greater focus on the specific types of phagocytic cells like neutrophils. Macrophages continue to be a major focus of research, given their crucial role in immunity, tissue homeostasis, and disease.

Comparison Chart

Size and Function

Smaller phagocytic cells, less versatile
Larger, versatile immune cells

Role in Immune Response

Rapid, initial immune response
Prolonged involvement in immune regulation


Broad, non-specific action
Specific actions including antigen presentation

Influence on Immunity

Limited beyond phagocytosis
Central to both innate and adaptive immunity

Modern Usage

Seldom used term
Widely studied and recognized in immunology

Microphage and Macrophage Definitions


A term for smaller phagocytic immune cells.
Microphages quickly respond to bacterial infection in the body.


Involved in phagocytosis and immune regulation.
Macrophages help regulate the immune response to infection.


Often refers to cells like neutrophils.
In an infected wound, microphages are among the first responders.


Large, versatile cells in the immune system.
Macrophages can engulf and destroy harmful pathogens.


Involved in early stages of immune response.
Microphages play a crucial role in immediate pathogen elimination.


Present antigens to T cells.
Macrophages process and present antigens for T cell recognition.


Less versatile compared to macrophages.
Microphages lack the antigen-presenting capabilities of macrophages.


Play a role in both innate and adaptive immunity.
Macrophages are crucial in bridging innate and adaptive immune responses.


Not a commonly used term in modern immunology.
Research on microphages has been largely replaced by studies on specific cell types.


Studied for their role in immunity, disease, and tissue repair.
Macrophages are a key focus in cancer immunotherapy research.


A small phagocyte.


Any of various large, phagocytic white blood cells that develop from monocytes, are found in the spleen, liver, and other tissues, and have a variety of functions in the immune system including engulfing and destroying pathogens and dead cells, presenting antigens to activate lymphocytes, and releasing cytokines that mediate inflammation.


(biology) A small phagocyte, especially a polymorphonuclear leucocyte (a granulocyte)


A white blood cell that phagocytizes necrotic cell debris and foreign material, including viruses, bacteria, and tattoo ink. It presents foreign antigens on MHC II to lymphocytes. Part of the innate immune system.


A neutrophil that ingests small things (as bacteria)


A large phagocyte.


A large phagocyte; some are fixed and other circulate in the blood stream


Are microphages still a focus in immunology?

No, the term is seldom used in modern immunology.

What cells are typically referred to as microphages?

Previously, cells like neutrophils were referred to as microphages.

Are microphages part of the innate immunity?

Yes, they're involved in the early, innate immune response.

What pathogens do microphages target?

They target a broad range of pathogens.

What is a microphage?

A term for smaller phagocytic immune cells, rarely used today.

Do macrophages have a role in adaptive immunity?

Yes, they link innate and adaptive immunity.

What is a macrophage?

A large, versatile immune cell involved in phagocytosis and immune regulation.

How do macrophages recognize pathogens?

Through pattern recognition receptors on their surface.

Can macrophages present antigens?

Yes, they play a key role in antigen presentation.

How do macrophages influence the immune response?

They regulate immune responses and participate in tissue repair.

Are microphages involved in tissue repair?

No, this is primarily a function of macrophages.

Do microphages have a longer lifespan than macrophages?

Typically, they have a shorter lifespan.

Can microphages present antigens?

Typically, they do not have antigen-presenting capabilities.

What is the main function of microphages?

Rapid response and phagocytosis of pathogens.

Can macrophages contribute to disease?

Yes, they can play a role in inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.

Are macrophages found in specific tissues?

Yes, they are located in virtually all tissues.

Can macrophages help in cancer therapy?

Yes, they are being studied for their role in cancer immunotherapy.

Do macrophages produce cytokines?

Yes, they secrete cytokines to modulate immune responses.

How are macrophages activated?

By signals from pathogens and other immune cells.

What distinguishes macrophages from other immune cells?

Their ability to phagocytose and regulate immune responses.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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