Mainly consisting of neutrophils and macrophages, these white blood cells roam the body ingesting, killing, digesting and occasionally vomiting (in the cellular sense) invading organisms such as bacteria and parasites.

Phagocytes are stored in bone marrow. When an area of the body is attacked, it releases histamine, and this triggers the phagocytes to be released. They then travel in the blood stream to the area that has been attacked. Once finding the bacteria, they change shape to engulf the bacteria, and then digest it using enzymes. When a large number of phagocytes have successfully got rid of an infection, they die and form pus.

It is however possible to inherit phagocyte disorder, where the phagocytes do not work in engulfing the bacteria. This can lead to Chronic Granulomatous Disease, Leukocyte Adhesion Deficiency, Chediak-Higashi Syndrome, and Interferon Gamma Receptor Deficiency. The decreased ability to destroy infectious pathogens results in severe, recurrent, and/or life-threatening infections to those who carry the genetic defect. This is extremely rare.

Phag"o*cyte (?), n. [Gr. to eat + a hollow vessel.] Physiol.

A leucocyte which plays a part in retrogressive processes by taking up (eating), in the form of fine granules, the parts to be removed.


© Webster 1913.

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