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J Leukoc Biol. 1994 Dec;56(6):672-86.

Neutrophils, host defense, and inflammation: a double-edged sword.

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Division of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, School of Life Sciences, Faculty of Science, Australian National University, Canberra.


Neutrophils play important roles in host defense against all classes of infectious agents but, paradoxically, they are also involved in the pathology of various inflammatory conditions. Their microbicidal armory consists of oxidative and nonoxidative processes that are activated simultaneously upon phagocytosis. Although destruction of infectious agents occurs intracellularly, release of cytotoxic molecules into the extracellular milieu can damage body tissues. Neutrophils are heterogeneous. Subpopulations exist in various stages from dormant to primed to fully activated. The activities of neutrophils are regulated locally in microenvironments and systemically by a plethora of mediators including cytokines, "classical" neuroendocrine hormones, and bioactive lipids. The net response depends on a complex balance of stimulatory and inhibitory pathways that are regulated by these mediators. Although some effector and regulatory pathways are vital, considerable redundancy is also evident. Identification of the essential mediators and the unraveling of any interactions may be the keys to understanding the neutrophil paradox and developing therapeutic strategies that optimize microbial killing and minimize host tissue damage. Finally, reports that neutrophils can act as drug delivery vectors and that their function is influenced by stress and other lifestyle factors suggest that new homeostatic functions for these cells, outside their traditional roles in host defense and inflammation, remain to be identified: some are speculated on here.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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