As proteins that are produced by white blood cells, cytokines perform several important functions that allow the body to operate at optimum levels. They are often created in response to the presence of some sort of bacterial infection. White blood cells release protein that then works as neurotransmitters to carry messages throughout the nervous system. There are actually several different types of cytokines, among them lumphokines, interleukins and interferons.
Because cytokines are essentially chemical messengers, they can help to regulate the nature and intensity of the response of the body’s immune system. Taking cues from the signals conveyed by the these proteins, the immune system would be able to stimulate production of necessary chemicals to fight infection as well as take other measures to suppress the spread of harmful bacteria.
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An example of how cytokines influence the immune system is that the prompting of these proteins can cause the immune system to temporarily increase the production of T-cells to combat an infection, then signal for the excess production to cease when the bacteria is brought under control. As signaling compounds, cytokines keep cell communication functioning at all times.
Hormones are another important aspect of the function of cytokines. The regulation of growth hormones is an important part of maintaining balanced health, and the proteins do their part to make sure that an acceptable rate of growth occurs, without creating any issues that would cause endocrine systems to malfunction. Peptides in the bloodstream help to maintain the balance, carrying the appropriate messages and responses back and forth through the system.
Because of the role that cytokines play in the battle against infections, researchers attempt to manufacture them in the laboratory. The basis for the research has to do with the treatment of people whose immune systems have been compromised by HIV-related circumstances. Replicating conditions for HIV and then artificially stimulating the production of cytokines may lead to options that will eventually help restore productivity to damaged immune systems.
While cytokines are an essential process within the body, they can also produce some undesirable side effect. Excess stimulation of them can lead to inflammation of the joints, outbreaks of fever, and a general sense of pain that may come and go. Generally, the side effects are short lived and will quickly subside as the production of the proteins decreases.