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Formation of Blood Cells

by Alan E. Lichtin, MD

Red blood cells, most white blood cells, and platelets are produced in the bone marrow, the soft fatty tissue inside bone cavities. Two types of white blood cells, T and B cells (lymphocytes), are also produced in the lymph nodes and spleen, and T cells are produced and mature in the thymus gland.

Within the bone marrow, all blood cells originate from a single type of unspecialized cell called a stem cell. When a stem cell divides, it first becomes an immature red blood cell, white blood cell, or platelet-producing cell. The immature cell then divides, matures further, and ultimately becomes a mature red blood cell, white blood cell, or platelet.

The rate of blood cell production is controlled by the body's needs. Normal blood cells last for a limited time (ranging from a few hours to a few days for white blood cells, to about 10 days for platelets, to about 120 days for red blood cells) and must be replaced constantly. Certain conditions may trigger additional production of blood cells. When the oxygen content of body tissues is low or the number of red blood cells decreases, the kidneys produce and release erythropoietin , a hormone that stimulates the bone marrow to produce more red blood cells. The bone marrow produces and releases more white blood cells in response to infections. It produces and releases more platelets in response to bleeding.