18.1 An Overview of Blood
Blood is a fluid connective tissue critical to the transportation of nutrients, gases, and wastes throughout the body; to defend the body against infection and other threats; and to the homeostatic regulation of pH, temperature, and other internal conditions. Blood is composed of formed elements—erythrocytes, leukocytes, and cell fragments called platelets—and a fluid extracellular matrix called plasma. More than 90 percent of plasma is water. The remainder is mostly plasma proteins—mainly albumin, globulins, and fibrinogen—and other dissolved solutes such as glucose, lipids, electrolytes, and dissolved gases. Because of the formed elements and the plasma proteins and other solutes, blood is sticky and more viscous than water. It is also slightly alkaline, and its temperature is slightly higher than normal body temperature.
18.2 Production of the Formed Elements
Through the process of hemopoiesis, the formed elements of blood are continually produced, replacing the relatively short-lived erythrocytes, leukocytes, and platelets. Hemopoiesis begins in the red bone marrow, with hematopoietic stem cells that differentiate into myeloid and lymphoid lineages. Myeloid stem cells give rise to most of the formed elements. Lymphoid stem cells give rise only to the various lymphocytes designated as B and T cells, and NK cells. Hemopoietic growth factors, including erythropoietin, thrombopoietin, colony-stimulating factors, and interleukins, promote the proliferation and differentiation of formed elements.
The most abundant formed elements in blood, erythrocytes are red, biconcave disks packed with an oxygen-carrying compound called hemoglobin. The hemoglobin molecule contains four globin proteins bound to a pigment molecule called heme, which contains an ion of iron. In the bloodstream, iron picks up oxygen in the lungs and drops it off in the tissues; the amino acids in hemoglobin then transport carbon dioxide from the tissues back to the lungs. Erythrocytes live only 120 days on average, and thus must be continually replaced. Worn-out erythrocytes are phagocytized by macrophages and their hemoglobin is broken down. The breakdown products are recycled or removed as wastes: Globin is broken down into amino acids for synthesis of new proteins; iron is stored in the liver or spleen or used by the bone marrow for production of new erythrocytes; and the remnants of heme are converted into bilirubin, or other waste products that are taken up by the liver and excreted in the bile or removed by the kidneys. Anemia is a deficiency of RBCs or hemoglobin, whereas polycythemia is an excess of RBCs.
18.4 Leukocytes and Platelets
Leukocytes function in body defenses. They squeeze out of the walls of blood vessels through emigration or diapedesis, then may move through tissue fluid or become attached to various organs where they fight against pathogenic organisms, diseased cells, or other threats to health. Granular leukocytes, which include neutrophils, eosinophils, and basophils, originate with myeloid stem cells, as do the agranular monocytes. The other agranular leukocytes, NK cells, B cells, and T cells, arise from the lymphoid stem cell line. The most abundant leukocytes are the neutrophils, which are first responders to infections, especially with bacteria. About 20–30 percent of all leukocytes are lymphocytes, which are critical to the body’s defense against specific threats. Leukemia and lymphoma are malignancies involving leukocytes. Platelets are fragments of cells known as megakaryocytes that dwell within the bone marrow. While many platelets are stored in the spleen, others enter the circulation and are essential for hemostasis; they also produce several growth factors important for repair and healing.
Hemostasis is the physiological process by which bleeding ceases. Hemostasis involves three basic steps: vascular spasm, the formation of a platelet plug, and coagulation, in which clotting factors promote the formation of a fibrin clot. Fibrinolysis is the process in which a clot is degraded in a healing vessel. Anticoagulants are substances that oppose coagulation. They are important in limiting the extent and duration of clotting. Inadequate clotting can result from too few platelets, or inadequate production of clotting factors, for instance, in the genetic disorder hemophilia. Excessive clotting, called thrombosis, can be caused by excessive numbers of platelets. A thrombus is a collection of fibrin, platelets, and erythrocytes that has accumulated along the lining of a blood vessel, whereas an embolus is a thrombus that has broken free from the vessel wall and is circulating in the bloodstream.
18.6 Blood Typing
Antigens are nonself molecules, usually large proteins, which provoke an immune response. In transfusion reactions, antibodies attach to antigens on the surfaces of erythrocytes and cause agglutination and hemolysis. ABO blood group antigens are designated A and B. People with type A blood have A antigens on their erythrocytes, whereas those with type B blood have B antigens. Those with AB blood have both A and B antigens, and those with type O blood have neither A nor B antigens. The blood plasma contains preformed antibodies against the antigens not present on a person’s erythrocytes.
A second group of blood antigens is the Rh group, the most important of which is Rh D. People with Rh− blood do not have this antigen on their erythrocytes, whereas those who are Rh+ do. About 85 percent of Americans are Rh+. When a person who is Rh− becomes pregnant with an Rh+ fetus, their body may begin to produce anti-Rh antibodies. If the person subsequently becomes pregnant with a second Rh+ fetus and is not treated preventively with RhoGAM, the fetus will be at risk for an antigen-antibody reaction, including agglutination and hemolysis. This is known as hemolytic disease of the newborn.
Cross matching to determine blood type is necessary before transfusing blood, unless the patient is experiencing hemorrhage that is an immediate threat to life, in which case type O− blood may be transfused.