Formation of Blood Cells

ByRavindra Sarode, MD, The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
Reviewed/Revised Jan 2024

    Red blood cells, most white blood cells, and platelets are produced in the bone marrow. However, 2 types of white blood cells—T cells and B cells (lymphocytes)—are also produced in the lymph nodes and spleen. T cells are also produced and mature in the thymus gland. (See also Overview of Blood.)

    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.

    To respond to bleeding, the bone marrow produces and releases more platelets.

    Effects of aging on the blood

    Aging has some effect on bone marrow and blood cells, resulting in less cell-producing bone marrow. While this decrease generally does not cause problems, problems may arise when the body experiences an increased demand for blood cells: the bone marrow of an older adult may be less able to meet those increased demands. Anemia is the most common result.

    (See also Effects of Aging on the Immune System.)

    Test your KnowledgeTake a Quiz!
    Download the free Merck Manual App iOS ANDROID
    Download the free Merck Manual App iOS ANDROID
    Download the free Merck Manual App iOS ANDROID