Specialized Cells: Types & Functions

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  • 0:00 What Are Specialized Cells?
  • 1:18 What Are Nerve Cells?
  • 2:19 What Are Blood Cells?
  • 3:09 What Are Reproductive Cells?
  • 4:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lisa Roundy

Lisa has taught at all levels from kindergarten to college and has a master's degree in human relations.

Our bodies are made up of cells, but they are not all the same. Cells are specialized according to their functions. In this lesson, we'll learn about cell specialization and see examples of specialized cells.

What Are Specialized Cells?

Your body is an amazing feat of engineering! It includes miles of nerve fibers and blood vessels, many feet of digestive system, a strong skeletal framework, and a protective covering. Even more amazing is the fact that all of this is created using only one type of component: the cell.

The cell is the basic unit of life. This makes sense given that every part of our body is made up of them, but not all cells are the same. In fact, our bodies are made up of over 200 types of specialized cells. Being specialized means that even though they are similar, cells differ in size, shape, or function depending on their role in our bodies. In other words, each type of cell is modified to work in the way our bodies need it to.

Specialized cells group together to form tissues. Tissues then form organs like the heart, stomach, or skin. Organs also come together to form systems such as the respiratory system or digestive system. These systems come together to form our bodies. When you think about the big picture, it makes sense that a muscle cell would be different from a nerve cell or a bone cell. In this lesson, we will look at a few examples of specialized cells and how they are uniquely designed to carry out specific functions in our bodies.

What Are Nerve Cells?

Nerve cells are called neurons. They bundle together to form a rope-like structure that branches throughout our bodies to form our nervous system. Neurons are found in the brain, spinal cord, and nerves. Their job is to send messages through an electrical impulse. The long connections at each end of the cell make it different from other cells in the body. These long connections help it transmit messages rapidly from neuron to neuron.

Let's look at an example of neurons in action. You accidentally touch your hand to something hot and then jerk it away instantly. It may happen in a flash, but the neurons do a lot of work in this short period of time. You feel pain as the neurons in the nerve endings of your hand sense the high heat. They send the message to the neurons in your brain. The neurons in your brain then send a message of pain back to your hand! At the same time, the neurons in your brain also send a message to the muscles in your arm, telling them to move the hand away from the heat. This is all made possible by the specialized ability of neurons to transmit rapid electrical messages.

What Are Blood Cells?

Three types of blood cells exist in our circulatory system: red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Each different type of blood cell is specialized, or carries out a different function. This is an example of how specialization can even occur within cells that are already specialized within a particular system of the body.

Let's look at red blood cells as an example. Red blood cells are a special type of blood cell that is used to carry oxygen throughout the body. They are flat, disk-shaped, and very flexible. Red blood cells also do not have a nucleus. Instead, the nucleus is replaced by a large amount of hemoglobin, a protein that binds with oxygen. The flat shape of a red blood cell provides more surface area for oxygen to pass through to the hemoglobin. The flexibility allows red blood cells to squeeze through the smallest of our blood vessels.

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