Neutrophil extracellular traps - the dark side of neutrophils

J Clin Invest. 2016 May 2;126(5):1612-20. doi: 10.1172/JCI84538. Epub 2016 May 2.


Neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs) were discovered as extracellular strands of decondensed DNA in complex with histones and granule proteins, which were expelled from dying neutrophils to ensnare and kill microbes. NETs are formed during infection in vivo by mechanisms different from those originally described in vitro. Citrullination of histones by peptidyl arginine deiminase 4 (PAD4) is central for NET formation in vivo. NETs may spur formation of autoantibodies and may also serve as scaffolds for thrombosis, thereby providing a link among infection, autoimmunity, and thrombosis. In this review, we present the mechanisms by which NETs are formed and discuss the physiological and pathophysiological consequences of NET formation. We conclude that NETs may be of more importance in autoimmunity and thrombosis than in innate immune defense.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autoantibodies / immunology
  • Autoimmunity*
  • Extracellular Traps / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Hydrolases / immunology
  • Immunity, Innate*
  • Neutrophils / immunology*
  • Neutrophils / pathology
  • Protein-Arginine Deiminase Type 4
  • Protein-Arginine Deiminases
  • Thrombosis / immunology*
  • Thrombosis / pathology


  • Autoantibodies
  • Hydrolases
  • PADI4 protein, human
  • Protein-Arginine Deiminase Type 4
  • Protein-Arginine Deiminases