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Kupffer Cells

Discover the fascinating role of Kupffer cells in liver health and immunity, and how their mysterious abilities impact overall well-being.

USMLE Guide: Kupffer Cells


Kupffer cells are specialized macrophages found in the liver. They play a crucial role in maintaining liver homeostasis and are involved in various physiological and pathological processes. This USMLE guide aims to provide a comprehensive overview of Kupffer cells, including their functions, origin, localization, and clinical significance.

Functions of Kupffer Cells

  • Phagocytosis: Kupffer cells are responsible for the clearance of pathogens, toxins, and cellular debris from the bloodstream.
  • Iron Recycling: They play a role in iron metabolism by recycling iron from aged red blood cells.
  • Immunomodulation: Kupffer cells participate in immune responses by presenting antigens to T cells and secreting various cytokines.
  • Detoxification: They contribute to the detoxification of harmful substances, such as drugs and alcohol.
  • Extracellular Matrix Remodeling: Kupffer cells produce matrix metalloproteinases, enzymes involved in tissue remodeling.

Origin and Localization

  • Kupffer cells originate from hematopoietic stem cells in the bone marrow.
  • They differentiate into macrophages and migrate to the liver during embryonic development.
  • Kupffer cells are primarily found in the liver sinusoids, residing in close proximity to hepatic endothelial cells.
  • They account for approximately 80-90% of the total tissue macrophages in the body.

Clinical Significance

  • Liver Inflammation: Activation of Kupffer cells can lead to liver inflammation, contributing to conditions such as alcoholic liver disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and hepatitis.
  • Liver Fibrosis: Prolonged activation of Kupffer cells can trigger fibrogenesis, leading to liver fibrosis and cirrhosis.
  • Hepatic Infections: Kupffer cells play a crucial role in the defense against hepatic infections, including viral hepatitis and parasitic infections.
  • Liver Transplantation: Kupffer cells are involved in the immune response during liver transplantation, contributing to graft rejection or acceptance.
  • Drug Metabolism: Kupffer cells are responsible for the metabolism and clearance of certain drugs, making them potential targets for drug delivery systems.


Kupffer cells are specialized macrophages found in the liver, playing a vital role in maintaining liver homeostasis. Their functions range from phagocytosis and immunomodulation to iron recycling and detoxification. Understanding the origin, localization, and clinical significance of Kupffer cells is crucial for comprehending liver pathophysiology and developing therapeutic interventions.

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