Stupid, Stupid Neutrophils

Neutrophils are defender cells that are supposed to destroy bacteria that invade wounds, a normal part of the inflammatory response to injury. Bizarrely, neutrophils go to work even when the wound is sterile, not open to the outside world. Like an overzealous police force with nothing better to do, they also attack a common cellular organ, mitochondria, whenever it is spilled from cells by injury. Mitochondria are actually honoured symbiotic guests that convert our food to energy for us. Normally we live out our lives in perfect harmony with mitochondria, biological BFFs. But when they get the chance, neutrophils target and hunt them like they are invaders 10  because for millions of years they haven’t gotten the evolutionary memo that mitochondria should be left in peace.

Inflammation often seems excessive because it is, because

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Every trauma causes pain that is too loud for too long, because a significant portion of the inflammation is due to this SNAFU immune system policy of attacking mitochondria

every trauma causes pain that is too loud for too long, because a significant portion of the inflammation is due to this SNAFU immune system policy of attacking mitochondria. There are many perverse sources of pain in pathology, but this one really stands out as being particularly ridiculous and unfair. It does have one practical implication: it directly suggests that it’s quite reasonable to try to control and limit inflammation with things like  Voltaren®  and  icing . Contrary to the popular notion that inflammation is “natural” and therefore good, inflammation is definitely exaggerated, and could do with some controlling!

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