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How Your Immune System Works


Leukocytes

Learning all of these different names and the function of each cell type takes a bit of effort, but you can understand scientific articles a lot better once you get it all figured out! Here's a quick summary to help you get all of the different cell types organized in your brain.

All white blood cells are known officially as leukocytes. White blood cells are not like normal cells in the body -- they actually act like independent, living single-cell organisms able to move and capture things on their own. White blood cells behave very much like amoeba in their movements and are able to engulf other cells and bacteria. Many white blood cells cannot divide and reproduce on their own, but instead have a factory somewhere in the body that produces them. That factory is the bone marrow.

Leukocytes are divided into three classes:

  • Granulocytes - Granulocytes make up 50% to 60% of all leukocytes. Granulocytes are themselves divided into three classes: neutrophils, eosinophils and basophils. Granulocytes get their name because they contain granules, and these granules contain different chemicals depending on the type of cell.
  • Lymphocyte - Lymphocytes make up 30% to 40% of all leukocytes. Lymphocytes come in two classes: B cells (those that mature in bone marrow) and T cells (those that mature in the thymus).
  • Monocyte - Monocytes make up 7% or so of all leukocytes. Monocytes evolve into macrophages.

All white blood cells start in bone marrow as stem cells. Stem cells are generic cells that can form into the many different types of leukocytes as they mature. For example, you can take a mouse, irradiate it to kill off its bone marrow's ability to produce new blood cells, and then inject stem cells into the mouse's blood stream. The stem cells will divide and differentiate into all different types of white blood cells. A "bone marrow transplant" is accomplished simply by injecting stem cells from a donor into the blood stream. The stem cells find their way, almost magically, into the marrow and make their home there.


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