Neutrophils

Dirk Roos, Central Laboratory of the Netherlands Red Cross Blood Transfusion Service and Laboratory for Experimental and Clinical Immunology, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Neutrophils, the major type of polymorphonuclear leukocytes, are mobile cells that can ingest and kill invading microorganisms. For this purpose, neutrophils use both newly generated, highly reactive oxygen compounds, and microbicidal or microbistatic proteins stored in their granule compartments. The biological significance of this line of defense is well illustrated by the overwhelming infections in patients with severe neutropenia or neutrophil dysfunctions. However, neutrophils may also cause serious tissue injury, for instance during persistent infections or chronic inflammation. Therapeutic intervention is then indicated.

Neutrophils are often called 'granulocytes'. Strictly speaking, however, 'granulocytes' is a collective noun for the polymorphonuclear leukocytes, which include neutrophilic granulocytes (neutrophils), eosinophilic granulocytes (eosinophils) and basophilic granulocytes (basophils).

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