Insect hemocytes and their role in immunity

Insect Biochem Mol Biol. 2002 Oct;32(10):1295-309. doi: 10.1016/s0965-1748(02)00092-9.


The innate immune system of insects is divided into humoral and cellular defense responses. Humoral defenses include antimicrobial peptides, the cascades that regulate coagulation and melanization of hemolymph, and the production of reactive intermediates of oxygen and nitrogen. Cellular defenses refer to hemocyte-mediated responses like phagocytosis and encapsulation. In this review, we discuss the cellular immune responses of insects with emphasis on studies in Lepidoptera and Diptera. Insect hemocytes originate from mesodermally derived stem cells that differentiate into specific lineages identified by morphology, function, and molecular markers. In Lepidoptera, most cellular defense responses involve granular cells and plasmatocytes, whereas in Drosophila they involve primarily plasmatocytes and lamellocytes. Insect hemocytes recognize a variety of foreign targets as well as alterations to self. Both humoral and cell surface receptors are involved in these recognition events. Once a target is recognized as foreign, hemocyte-mediated defense responses are regulated by signaling factors and effector molecules that control cell adhesion and cytotoxicity. Several lines of evidence indicate that humoral and cellular defense responses are well-coordinated with one another. Cross-talk between the immune and nervous system may also play a role in regulating inflammation-like responses in insects during infection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Hematopoiesis
  • Hemocytes / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Cellular
  • Insecta / immunology*