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Lecture 2: Blood constituents

Properties and functions: Blood cell formation

Haemoglobin

Haemoglobin is responsible for distributing oxygen, and to a lesser extent, carbon dioxide, throughout the circulatory systems of humans, vertebrates, and many invertebrates. Blood plasma is actually the dominant component of blood and contains the water, proteins, electrolytes, lipids, and glucose. The cells are responsible for carrying the gases (red cells) and immune the response (white). The platelets are responsible for blood clotting.

Red Blood Cells

Red blood cells, or erythrocytes (erythro- = “red”; -cyte = “cell”), are specialized cells that circulate through the body delivering oxygen to cells; they are formed from stem cells in the bone marrow. In mammals, red blood cells are small biconcave cells that at maturity do not contain a nucleus or mitochondria and are only 7–8 µm in size.

White Blood Cells

White blood cells, also called leukocytes (leuko = white), make up approximately one percent by volume of the cells in blood. The role of white blood cells is very different than that of red blood cells: they are primarily involved in the immune response to identify and target pathogens, such as invading bacteria, viruses, and other foreign organisms. White blood cells are formed continually; some only live for hours or days, but some live for years.

 The two main groups are the granulocytes, which include the neutrophils, eosinophils, and basophils, and the agranulocytes, which include the monocytes and lymphocytes.

  • Granulocytes—including neutrophils, eosinophils and basophils—are characterized by a lobed nucleus and granular inclusions in the cytoplasm. Granulocytes are typically first-responders during injury or infection.
  • Agranulocytes include lymphocytes and monocytes. Lymphocytes, including B and T cells, are responsible for adaptive immune response. Monocytes differentiate into macrophages and dendritic cells, which in turn respond to infection or injury.

Platelets and Coagulation Factors

Blood must clot to heal wounds and prevent excess blood loss. Small cell fragments called platelets (thrombocytes) are attracted to the wound site where they adhere by extending many projections and releasing their contents. These contents activate other platelets and also interact with other coagulation factors, which convert fibrinogen, a water-soluble protein present in blood serum into fibrin (a non-water-soluble protein), causing the blood to clot. Many of the clotting factors require vitamin K to work, and vitamin K deficiency can lead to problems with blood clotting. Many platelets converge and stick together at the wound site forming a platelet plug (also called a fibrin clot), as illustrated in figure b. The plug or clot lasts for a number of days and stops the loss of blood.

Plasma and Serum

The liquid component of blood is called plasma, and it is separated by spinning or centrifuging the blood at high rotations (3000 rpm or higher). The blood cells and platelets are separated by centrifugal forces to the bottom of a specimen tube. The upper liquid layer, the plasma, consists of 90 percent water along with various substances required for maintaining the body’s pH, osmotic load, and for protecting the body. The plasma also contains the coagulation factors and antibodies.

The plasma component of blood without the coagulation factors is called the serum. Serum is similar to interstitial fluid in which the correct composition of key ions acting as electrolytes is essential for normal functioning of muscles and nerves. Other components in the serum include proteins that assist with maintaining pH and osmotic balance while giving viscosity to the blood. The serum also contains antibodies, specialized proteins that are important for defense against viruses and bacteria.

Blood Cell Formation

The process of making blood cells is called Haematopoiesis. Blood cells are made in the bone marrow. That’s a spongy tissue located inside some bones. It contains young parent cells called stem cells. These blood-forming stem cells can grow into all 3 types of blood cells – red cells, white cells and platelets.

These blood-forming stem cells make copies of themselves, and they also produce mature blood cells. When blood cells are fully mature and functional, they leave the bone marrow and enter the blood. Healthy people have enough stem cells to keep making all the blood cells they need every day.

RBCs, most WBCs and Platelets are produced in the bone marrow, the soft fatty tissue inside bone cavities. Two types of white blood cells, T and B cells (lymphocytes), are also produced in the lymph nodes and spleen, and T cells are produced and mature in the thymus gland.

Within the bone marrow, all blood cells originate from a single type of unspecialized cell called a stem cell. When a stem cell divides, it first becomes an immature red blood cell, white blood cell, or platelet-producing cell. The immature cell then divides, matures further, and ultimately becomes a mature red blood cell, white blood cell, or platelet.

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