What are Amoeboid Cells?

Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has taught high school and college biology and has a master's degree in cancer biology.

This lesson is going to explain what amoeboid cells are and detail some of the characteristics that make them unique. We will also cover a couple of examples of amoeboid cells.

Amoeboid Cells: Defined

Take a minute to think about water. What kinds of qualities does it have? Aside from being wet - and sometimes cold - water very distinctly lacks a set shape. This is true for all liquids, actually. They take on the shape of whatever is containing them. Water in a glass will take the shape of the glass. Water on a flat surface will spread out as flat as it can and continue to move due to the lack of shape.

This trait isn't normally seen in solid or semi-solid substances. These usually have a set shape that doesn't change. This also holds true for almost all cells. Your nerve and blood cells all have a set shape. Bacterial and plant cells also have a set shape. An exception to this is amoeba, which are single-celled organisms that are able to change their shape. The other exception is amoeboid cells, which are cells that mimic amoeba by being able to change their shape.

Characteristics of Amoeboid Cells

The reason why amoeba and amoeboid cells are able to change shape has to do with the cytoplasm contained in the cell and the parts of the skeleton of the cell known as the cytoskeleton. The cytoplasm contains a substance known as plasmagel that is able to change consistency and move around more than the rest of the cytoplasm. The cytoskeleton contains parts that are able to contract and expand. The contraction and expansion, along with the plasmagel changing consistency, changes the shape of the cells.

Amoebae and amoeboid cells do not have a set shape
Micrograph of an amoeba

The ability to change shape is only one characteristic exhibited by amoeboid cells. They have a modified method of movement based on the ability to change shape. Amoeboid cells use what is called a pseudopodia to move forward. Now any time you see that prefix pseudo-, you know it means false, similar or like. In other words, it's almost, but not quite what the name says. In the case of pseudopodia, this means 'false foot' or 'like a foot.'

Amoeboid cells change shape to protrude one portion of the cell out, and it almost works like a foot. The rest of the cell will then go in the direction of the protrusion. This type of movement is known as amoeboid movement.

Amoeboid cells are also able to carry-out a process known as phagocytosis, which literally means to eat or ingest other cells. The amoeboid cells accomplish phagocytosis by using pseudopodia to surround and engulf other cells. Once the cells are engulfed they are digested by the amoeboid cells.

Amoeboid cells digest other cells through phagocytosis
Diagram of phagocytosis

The constant changing of shape makes amoeboid cells asymmetrical. This means that they do not display any symmetry at all.

Examples of Amoeboid Cells

So now you know what amoeboid cells are, but you may be trying to figure out which cells are classified as amoeboid cells. Well, there are some working to defend your body right now. We all have white blood cells in our bodies that are amoeboid cells. Macrophages, the white blood cells that use phagocytosis to rid the body of foreign cells, are amoeboid cells. They change their shape in order to engulf bacteria and other invaders in the body in order to defend the body against diseases and infections.

Macrophages are examples of amoeboid cells
Micrograph of a macrophage

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