3. Innate Immunity

Cells of the Innate Immune System

There are many types of white blood cells, or leukocytes, that work to defend and protect the human body. In order to patrol the entire body, leukocytes travel by way of the circulatory system.The following cells are leukocytes of the innate immune system:

  • Phagocytes, or Phagocytic cells: Phagocyte means “eating cell”, which describes what role phagocytes play in the immune response. Phagocytes circulate throughout the body, looking for potential threats, like bacteria and viruses, to engulf and destroy. You can think of phagocytes as security guards on patrol.
Phagocytosis diagram

Phagocytosis diagram This article explains how phagocytes know what to engulf, and how phagocytosis works.

  • Macrophages: Macrophages, commonly abbreviated as “Mφ”, are efficient phagocytic cells that can leave the circulatory system by moving across the walls of capillary vessels. The ability to roam outside of the circulatory system is important, because it allows macrophages to hunt pathogens with less limits. Macrophages can also release cytokines in order to signal and recruit other cells to an area with pathogens.
Macrophage and cytokines diagram

Macrophage and cytokines diagram

  • Mast cells: Mast cells are found in mucous membranes and connective tissues, and are important for wound healing and defense against pathogens via the inflammatory response. When mast cells are activated, they release cytokines and granules that contain chemical molecules to create an inflammatory cascade. Mediators, such as histamine, cause blood vessels to dilate, increasing blood flow and cell trafficking to the area of infection. The cytokines released during this process act as a messenger service, alerting other immune cells, like neutrophils and macrophages, to make their way to the area of infection, or to be on alert for circulating threats.
Mast cell and histamine diagram

Mast cell and histamine diagram

  • Neutrophils: Neutrophils are phagocytic cells that are also classified as granulocytes because they contain granules in their cytoplasm. These granules are very toxic to bacteria and fungi, and cause them to stop proliferating or die on contact.
Neutrophil and granules diagram

Neutrophil and granules diagramThe bone marrow of an average healthy adult makes approximately 100 billion new neutrophils per day. Neutrophils are typically the first cells to arrive at the site of an infection because there are so many of them in circulation at any given time.

  • Eosinophils: Eosinophils are granulocytes target multicellular parasites. Eosinophils secrete a range of highly toxic proteins and free radicals that kill bacteria and parasites. The use of toxic proteins and free radicals also causes tissue damage during allergic reactions, so activation and toxin release by eosinophils is highly regulated to prevent any unnecessary tissue damage.While eosinophils only make up 1-6% of the white blood cells, they are found in many locations, including the thymus, lower gastrointestinal tract, ovaries, uterus, spleen, and lymph nodes.
Eosinophil and granules diagram

Eosinophil and granules diagram

  • Basophils: Basophils are also granulocytes that attack multicellular parasites. Basophils release histamine, much like mast cells. The use of histamine makes basophils and mast cells key players in mounting an allergic response.
  • Natural Killer cells: Natural Killer cells (NK cells), do not attack pathogens directly. Instead, natural killer cells destroy infected host cells in order to stop the spread of an infection. Infected or compromised host cells can signal natural kill cells for destruction through the expression of specific receptors and antigen presentation.
  • Dendritic cells: Dendritic cells are antigen-presenting cells that are located in tissues, and can contact external environments through the skin, the inner mucosal lining of the nose, lungs, stomach, and intestines. Since dendritic cells are located in tissues that are common points for initial infection, they can identify threats and act as messengers for the rest of the immune system by antigen presentation. Dendritic cells also act as bridge between the innate immune system and the adaptive immune system.
Dendritic cell diagram

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