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What Are Macrophages? Learn About The Biology of Biowars

BioWarriors Phagien and Scathe — hero image for the "What are macrophages" blog post

If there’s one thing you need to know about the BioCosmos, it’s that it can be a very dangerous place — if you’re not equipped with the right kind of firepower.

After all, the BioCosmos is a place where mutants and microbes alike are only interested in one single, destructive objective: to throw Alex Hawking’s body into total viral chaos.

Fortunately for Alex Hawking, however, two brave BioWarriors are always ready to tackle any threat to his well-being — macrophages Phagien and Scathe.

You might be wondering, “What are macrophages exactly?” To answer that question, let us examine these brave cells and find out why they’re so essential to your body.

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What Are Macrophages?

The word “macrophage” comes from Greek origins, where makros (large) and phagein (to eat) are brought together to describe the macrophage as the “big eater” of your immune system.

And by big eater, we’re talking about a buffet-style hunger that puts other BioWarriors to shame.

As a white blood cell, macrophages are designed to keep you in good health. But unlike other white blood cells, the macrophage doesn’t spend a lot of time being picky about how it gets the job done.

Whether it’s attacking microbes and cancer cells or disintegrating cellular debris and other foreign substances, the macrophage’s primary function is to engulf, digest and purge anything that doesn’t belong inside your body in a process known as phagocytosis.

BioWarriors Phagien and Scathe — image for the "What are macrophages" blog post

BioWarriors Phagien and Scathe are perfect representations of actual macrophages

How Does Phagocytosis Work?

Let’s dig a little deeper into what this process really means using the image above.

When a macrophage spots something in its area that doesn’t appear to be healthy or could potentially cause some damage to the immune system, it heads on over to check it out.

What the macrophage is looking for is certain types of proteins specific to healthy body cells. If it finds them, the macrophage moves on. If it doesn’t, then it breaks out the forks and napkins and prepares itself for a virtual smorgasbord.

To begin the feeding process, a macrophage surrounds its prey with a mouth-like protrusion (see step “a”) that consumes pathogens (see number “1”) like it’s on death row and this is its last meal.

Once the pathogens enter the macrophage, phagosomes are formed (see number “2”) around the pathogens, which then fuse themselves together with lysosomes (see number “3”) to begin breaking them down.

This fusion of phagosomes and lysosomes is called, as you’d probably expect, a phagolysosome (see step “b”).

And once this dynamic duo combines their powers, pathogens just don’t stand a chance, being quickly broken down by the phagolysosome’s enzymes into even more super-microscopic waste material (see number “4”).

At that point, what else can you expect from the macrophage other than to get rid of the waste material (see step “c”) altogether, in order to prepare for the next course?

Not a darn thing, because that’s exactly what happens next, as the waste is eliminated from the cytoplasm (see number “5”) by way of the cell membrane (see number “6”), where it’s later removed through the bloodstream.

And there you have phagocytosis.

Macrophage function illustrated

Phagocytosis, the main function of macrophages, takes place in several stages

More About Macrophages: The Good Guys!

The macrophage does a lot more than just take out the bad guys. Their functions are plentiful and fascinating.

Whenever your muscles repair themselves after being overused or injured, that means macrophages were there to help you regenerate your muscle fibers and get you back in the game.

They also do a lot in terms of wound healing, usually showing up in massive numbers to lure other types of healing cells to the area, so they can all work as a team to provide healing both inside and outside of the body.

Their job doesn’t end there, however, because macrophages can be found patrolling nearly every part of your body, playing a big part in your innate immune system, as well as adapting their structure to give them an advantage in your body’s internal battlefield.

This includes everything from teaming up with lymphocytes to exterminate viruses and diseases to releasing cytokines that work as biological bat signals to tell the immune system it needs to get cranking at full-speed.

Another interesting tidbit about macrophages that scientists discovered is their ability to regenerate lost limbs in such animals as salamanders.

While macrophages may not be doing this for humans right now, there’s a good chance that biologists might one day discover a way to restore parts of the body that might otherwise be lost forever.

What are macrophages — photograph

The exact purpose of macrophages in your body depends on what tissue or organ they belong to

Getting Familiar With The Different Macrophage Breeds

If we were to draw a parallel between macrophages and animals, the closest comparison would be ants.

Just like ants, macrophages are small, mighty and incredibly diverse, and different types of macrophages specialize in different tasks.

To explain how it is possible for the macrophages to be so multi-functional, let’s explore where they come from first.

Macrophages’ closest relatives in your body are monocytes — a type of white blood cells that originates in your bone marrow.

These large cells travel all over your body via your blood vessels, until they arrive at specific organs or tissues. There, they transform into macrophages with the help of special proteins called cytokines.

Because they serve a specific purpose in their respective organs or tissues of destination, macrophages in one part of your body are different from the macrophages in another part. Here are just a few examples:

  • Alveolar macrophages: Also knows as dust cells, these macrophages inhabit the alveoli of your lungs. Their primary responsibility is to protect your respiratory system from foreign objects (such as dust or pollen particles), bacteria and dead cells. Since your alveoli are among your body’s primary lines of defense against external hazards, the activity and number of alveolar macrophages are among the highest.
  • Stellate macrophages: More commonly referred to as Kupffer cells, stellate macrophages are found in your liver. These cells are especially busy, as they are tasked with initiating an immune response to everything that enters your digestive system — including toxins and gut bacteria.
  • Microglia: These glial cells are the main protectors of your central nervous system, as other cells are simply too large to find their way into your brain and spinal cord. In fact, microglia make up around 15% of the total number of cells in your CNS. Apart from securing the immunity of your brain against infections, they also help remove dead or damaged neurons and synapses.
  • Red pulp macrophages: As the name suggests, these macrophages are found in the red pulp tissue of your spleen. They the spleen’s primary function — which is filtering your blood and cleaning it from dead or dysfunctional red blood cells.
  • Langerhans cells: Found throughout the outer layer of your skin, or epidermis, these cells are referred to as dendritic. That means their primary function is to inform your bacteria-fighting T cells of the impending danger — in this case, skin infections or bacterial infestations.
  • Osteoclasts: Your bones aren’t as static as you might think, all thanks to osteoclasts. The primary function of these macrophages is to break down and process your bone tissue, which allows your bones to regenerate and stay healthy.

Wrapping Up On Macrophages

When we say that the macrophage is one of the most effective and crucial pieces of the immune system’s biological makeup, we’re not exaggerating.

Without the macrophage, mankind would have a really difficult time keeping up with all the viral villains that life has to offer.

They are not only your body’s first line of defense against bacteria, viruses and diseases. Macrophages are also responsible for some of your body’s most essential functions — regenerating your muscles, healing your wounds, filtering your blood and more.

So next time you get a fever after catching the flu, know that it’s simply the result of the brave macrophagesCheck out more from Biowars! in your body doing their work. These biological heroes are certainly ones to marvel at.

Do you have some knowledge on macrophages you’d like to share with us? Let us know in the comments!

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