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Understanding Cancer Series

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  • Posted: 01/28/2005
  • Reviewed: 09/01/2006

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Slide 14

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Cytokines

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Cytokines are diverse and potent chemical messengers secreted by the cells of your immune system. They are the chief communication signals of your T cells. Cytokines include interleukins, growth factors, and interferons.

Lymphocytes, including both T cells and B cells, secrete cytokines called lymphokines, while the cytokines of monocytes and macrophages are dubbed monokines. Many of these cytokines are also known as interleukins because they serve as a messenger between white cells, or leukocytes.

Interferons are naturally occurring cytokines that may boost the immune system's ability to recognize cancer as a foreign invader.

Binding to specific receptors on target cells, cytokines recruit many other cells and substances to the field of action. Cytokines encourage cell growth, promote cell activation, direct cellular traffic, and destroy target cells--including cancer cells.

When cytokines attract specific cell types to an area, they are called chemokines. These are released at the site of injury or infection and call other immune cells to the region to help repair damage and defend against infection.

Cytokines