Left shift and toxic change in heterophils and neutrophils of non-mammalian vertebrates: A comparative review, image atlas, and practical considerations

Vet Clin Pathol. 2022 Mar;51(1):18-44. doi: 10.1111/vcp.13117. Epub 2022 Feb 24.


Heterophils and neutrophils are important first cellular responders to inflammatory conditions. In addition to quantitative shifts in the numbers of these cells in blood, inflammatory disease states often have accompanying increases in immature precursor stages (left shift) and/or evidence of toxic change on blood film evaluation. Recognition of left shift and toxic change morphologies is a salient diagnostic finding with clinical relevance across species. The objectives of this report are to (a) review heterophil and neutrophil function and structure across the vertebrate animal kingdom, (b) compare morphologic features of left shift and toxic change in heterophils and neutrophils of non-mammalian vertebrates (NMV) to mammals, (c) provide an image guide demonstrating the breadth of morphologic diversity of heterophil and neutrophil lineages in health and disease across taxa, and (d) discuss practical considerations for clinical pathologists and other professionals involved in the recognition and interpretation of observations in the inflammatory leukogram of NMV.

Keywords: amphibian; avian; elasmobranch; fish; hematology; inflammation; non-domestic species; reptile.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chickens
  • Leukocyte Count / veterinary
  • Mammals
  • Neutrophils*
  • Vertebrates*