Plasticity of neutrophils reveals modulatory capacity

Braz J Med Biol Res. 2015 Aug;48(8):665-75. doi: 10.1590/1414-431X20154524. Epub 2015 Jun 23.


Neutrophils are widely known as proinflammatory cells associated with tissue damage and for their early arrival at sites of infection, where they exert their phagocytic activity, release their granule contents, and subsequently die. However, this view has been challenged by emerging evidence that neutrophils have other activities and are not so short-lived. Following activation, neutrophil effector functions include production and release of granule contents, reactive oxygen species (ROS), and neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs). Neutrophils have also been shown to produce a wide range of cytokines that have pro- or anti-inflammatory activity, adding a modulatory role for this cell, previously known as a suicide effector. The presence of cytokines almost always implies intercellular modulation, potentially unmasking interactions of neutrophils with other immune cells. In fact, neutrophils have been found to help B cells and to modulate dendritic cell (DC), macrophage, and T-cell activities. In this review, we describe some ways in which neutrophils influence the inflammatory environment in infection, cancer, and autoimmunity, regulating both innate and adaptive immune responses. These cells can switch phenotypes and exert functions beyond cytotoxicity against invading pathogens, extending the view of neutrophils beyond suicide effectors to include functions as regulatory and suppressor cells.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptive Immunity / immunology*
  • Cell Plasticity / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immune System Diseases / immunology
  • Immunomodulation / immunology*
  • Inflammation / immunology
  • Neoplasms / immunology
  • Neutrophil Activation / immunology*
  • Neutrophils / immunology
  • Neutrophils / physiology*