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Do White Blood Cells Have Nuclei?

Instructor: Sarah Phenix
In this lesson, we will not only answer this question, but we will explore what a white blood cell is and the role that the nucleus plays in visually identifying each type of white blood cell.

Do White Blood Cells Have Nuclei?

The very short answer to this question is yes, white blood cells are nucleated cells,(meaning each cell has a nucleus) but that is truly an incomplete answer because there is so much that you really should know about their nuclei (plural of nucleus). So, with that said, let's head deeper into this topic because while the answer is, ''Yes, there is a nucleus,'' that is definitely not the end of this story.

What are White Blood Cells?

This may seem like a really basic question. You may think, ''Well, white blood cells are one of the three major cells in my blood'' (red blood cells and platelets being the other two) but that's only partially accurate. White blood cells, known as leukocytes ('leuko' meaning white and 'cytes' meaning cells) are actually a category of blood cells circulating through your body whose sole responsibility is the defense and protection of your body. Now, I used the word category because you actually have more than one type of leukocyte and not only is each type responsible for protecting your body against a particular type of invader, they also each use different methods of defense. You can think of them as your own personal army of ninjas who, like ninjas, each use different weapons (some ninjas use hand-to-hand combat while others might use nunchucks) and each group (based on their weapons of choice) specifically fights a certain type of enemy.

You might be thinking, ''But what does this have to do with the nuclei of leukocytes?'' Well, actually quite a lot. We can visually identify each of the different types of white blood cells in your body by the way their nuclei appear. That's right, the shapes of their nuclei act as their own personal flags identifying what types of 'ninjas' they are and, in turn, who they defend against.

Types of Leukocytes

Types of Leukocytes
Leukocyte Types

There are five different types of leukocytes within your body and they are subdivided into two categories: granulocytes and agranulocytes, based on whether or not the cells have granular-like proteins in their cytoplasms (the fluid within the plasma membrane and outside of the nucleus). Stained (or dyed) cells with protein granules are granulocytes while those without are agranulocytes ('a' meaning without, granules). Ok, so now that we understand how leukocytes are subdivided, let's take a look at the leukocytes in these two categories.

To Be, or Not To Be...Granulated

There are three types of granulated cells: basophils, eosinophils, and neutrophils. What's interesting to note is that they each get their names from the particular cellular dyes that they absorb. Basophils love the basic (alkaline) blue dye ('phil' meaning love, 'baso' meaning base), eosinophil loves the acid red dye (called eosin), while neutrophils love neutral environments (meaning a combination of the basic blue and eosin red). Therefore, when they are stained with both the basic blue and the eosin red, each of the three will hold the stain differently.

With that said, neutrophils have a nucleus with three to five lobes and are essentially the first responders to inflamed cells suffering from bacterial infections or cancer cell proliferation and phagocytize (consume) the infected/defective cell. Eosinophils have a bilobed nucleus and are extremely important in fighting parasitic infections as well as some viral infections. Basophils , if their nucleus is visible through their heavily granulated cytoplasm, have a bilobed nucleus and are responsible for secreting heparin (an anticoagulant) and histamines during allergic reactions and some parasitic infections.

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