Death of a Human White Blood Cell Captured Using Time-lapse Microscopy

Posted on July 7, 2015

Death of a human white blood cell recorded with time-lapse microscopy

Scientists have captured the death of a human white blood cell for the time using time-lapse microscopy. The researchers from the La Trobe Institute of Molecular Science discovered that molecules are ejected from inside the decomposing white blood cell as it dies. These molecules form long beaded strings.

These strings of molecules are then distributed throughout the body. The researchers say the beaded strings are up to eight times larger than the host cell. They have named the process "beaded apoptopodia."

Lead researchers, Dr Ivan Poon and Georgia Atkin-Smith say that until now scientists thought the breakdown of dying cells was a random process. The researchers speculate that the unique dying method of white blood cells could help alert neighboring cells about the presence of disease or infection in the body. They also say it could be the way a virus transports itself to infect other parts of the body.

Dr. Poon says in a statement, "The role of white blood cells is central to our body's innate immune system and much like fighter jet pilots are ejected from their downed aeroplane, we have discovered certain molecules are pushed free from the dying cell, while others are left behind in the 'wreckage' of the cell fragments."

Here is a video of the dying white blood cell. It starts to bulge before breaking apart and leaving the beaded structures. Take a look:

A research paper on the findings was published here in the journal, Nature Communications.

Photo: La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science