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What are Neutrophils?

Neutrophils are a type of white blood cell. They are produced by bone marrow and are the most common of all white blood cells (also known as leukocytes).  They can be found in the blood stream and like other types of leukocytes they are part of the immune system. This means that they help humans battle against any type of infection. If our body is ever attacked by bacteria or other unwanted guest it will be the neutrophils that act as the first line of defense. For that reason they are very important cells.

How Neutrophils Defend the Body

Neutrophils are a type of phagocytic cell and this means that they are able to eat other cells. This destruction of other cells by ingesting them kills the neutrophils but this is why our bone marrow produces so many of them. If an intruder invades our body, these white blood cells will arrive on the scene within an hour. The neutrophils don’t actually stay alive that long; in fact if we don’t use them within 10 hours they will just self-destruct.

If you look at pus the bulk of what you are looking at will be neutrophils; it is these that give the pus its white color. They might not look very attractive but he job they do keeps us alive. They know when to defend the body because they are alerted by chemical signals within the body.  Not only can the combat infections inside the cell but also outside them and on our skin. They manage to do this by producing a net of fibers called the neutrophil extracellular trap (NET). As they kill invaders the neutrophils produce a toxic chemical that can also kill other undesirables.

What Happens If We Don’t Have Enough Neutrophils?

Some people don’t have enough neutrophils and this can make life difficult.  It means that their immune system is compromised and so unable to do its job properly. This situation is referred to as neutropenia. Some people may be born with this type of problem or it can also be something that is acquired by a disease process such as leukemia or anemia. Those who are undergoing chemotherapy are at increased risk of neutropenia. The fact that these people have a weak immune system means that they are more susceptible to any opportunistic infection.

As well as not having enough neutrophils it can also occur that people have such cells that aren’t working properly. If this is the case then it could lead to the situation where these white blood cells actually start to attack the body. The immune system can overreact and cause damage to itself in the process.

Some Final Thoughts on Neutrophils

Neutrophils are a vital element of our immune system. Without them we would be open to every passing infection and would struggle to stay alive. The next time you see some pus escaping a wound you may want to be grateful that these cells have being doing such a superb job.