Approximate idea about total leukocyte count can be gained from the examination of the smear under high power objective (40× or 45×). A differential leukocyte count should be carried out. Abnormal appearing white cells are evaluated under oil-immersion objective.
Morphology of normal leukocytes (see Figure 800.1):
- Polymorphonuclear neutrophil: Neutrophil measures 14-15 μm in size. Its cytoplasm is colorless or lightly eosinophilic and contains multiple, small, fine, mauve granules. Nucleus has 2-5 lobes that are connected by fine chromatin strands. Nuclear chromatin is condensed and stains deep purple in color. A segmented neutrophil has at least 2 lobes connected by a chromatin strand. A band neutrophil shows non-segmented U-shaped nucleus of even width. Normally band neutrophils comprise less than 3% of all leukocytes. Majority of neutrophils have 3 lobes, while less than 5% have 5 lobes. In females, 2-3% of neutrophils show a small projection (called drumstick) on the nuclear lobe. It represents one inactivated X chromosome.
- Eosinophil: Eosinophils are slightly larger than neutrophils (15-16 μm). The nucleus is often bilobed and the cytoplasm is packed with numerous, large, bright orange-red granules. On blood smears, some of the eosinophils are often ruptured.
- Basophils: Basophils are seen rarely on normal smears. They are small (9-12 μm), round to oval cells, which contain very large, coarse, deep purple granules. It is difficult to make out the nucleus since granules cover it.
- Monocytes: Monocyte is the largest of the leukocytes (15-20 μm). It is irregular in shape, with oval or clefted (kidney-shaped) nucleus and fine, delicate chromatin. Cytoplasm is abundant, bluegray with ground glass appearance and often contains fine azurophil granules and vacuoles. After migration to the tissues from blood, they are called as macrophages.
- Lymphocytes: On peripheral blood smear, two types of lymphocytes are distinguished: small and large. The majority of lymphocytes are small (7-8 μm). These cells have a high nuclearcytoplasmic ratio with a thin rim of deep blue cytoplasm. The nucleus is round or slightly clefted with coarsely clumped chromatin. Large lymphocytes (10-15 μm) have a more abundant, pale blue cytoplasm, which may contain a few azurophil granules. Nucleus is oval or round and often placed on one side of the cell.
Figure 800.1 Normal mature white blood cells in peripheral blood
Morphology of abnormal leukocytes:
- Toxic granules: These are darkly staining, bluepurple, coarse granules in the cytoplasm of neutrophils. They are commonly seen in severe bacterial infections.
- Döhle inclusion bodies: These are small, oval, pale blue cytoplasmic inclusions in the periphery of neutrophils. They represent remnants of ribosomes and rough endoplasmic reticulum. They are often associated with toxic granules and are seen in bacterial infections.
- Cytoplasmic vacuoles: Vacuoles in neutrophils are indicative of phagocytosis and are seen in bacterial infections.
- Shift to left of neutrophils: This refers to presence of immature cells of neutrophil series (band forms and metamyelocytes) in peripheral blood and occurs in infections and inflammatory disorders.
- Hypersegmented neutrophils: Hypersegmentation of neutrophils is said to be present when >5% of neutrophils have 5 or more lobes. They are large in size and are also called as macropolycytes. They are seen in folate or vitamin B12 deficiency and represent one of the earliest signs.
- Pelger-Huet cells: In Pelger-Huet anomaly (a benign autosomal dominant condition), there is failure of nuclear segmentation of granulocytes so that nuclei are rod-like, round, or have two segments. Such granulocytes are also observed in myeloproliferative disorders (pseudo-Pelger-Huet cells).
- Atypical lymphocytes: These are seen in viral infections, especially infectious mononucleosis. Atypical lymphocytes are large, irregularly shaped lymphocytes with abundant cytoplasm and irregular nuclei. Cytoplasm shows deep basophilia at the edges and scalloping of borders. Nuclear chromatin is less dense and occasional nucleolus may be present.
- Blast cells: These are most premature of the leukocytes. They are large (15-25 μm), round to oval cells, with high nuclear cytoplasmic ratio. Nucleus shows one or more nucleoli and nuclear chromatin is immature. These cells are seen in severe infections, infiltrative disorders, and leukemia. In leukemia and lymphoma, blood smear suggests the diagnosis or differential diagnosis and helps in ordering further tests (see Figure 800.2 and Box 800.1).
Figure 800.2 Morphological abnormalities of white blood cells: (A) Toxic granules; (B) Döhle inclusion body; (C) Shift to left in neutrophil series; (D) Hypersegmented neutrophil in megaloblastic anemia; (E) Atypical lymphocyte in infectious mononucleosis; (F) Blast cell in acute leukemia