Neonatology pp 1523-1547 | Cite as

Physiology and Abnormalities of Leukocytes in Newborns

  • Kurt R. SchiblerEmail author
Reference work entry


Leukocytes have a major role in host defence against invading microorganisms. During the fetal and neonatal periods, leukocyte physiology is peculiar and neutrophil counts vary considerably early in the neonatal period. Neonates, especially preterm children, have an immaturity of neutrophil function and production, with limited abilities to recall mature neutrophils in peripheral blood. Infections may therefore be more challenging at this age. The most common disorders of leukocytes present in newborns are quantitative abnormalities such as neutropenia, neutrophilia, and leukemoid reaction. Quantitative defects in phagocytic leukocytes may also occur in conjunction with qualitative changes. Classification of leukocyte abnormalities according to underlying kinetic mechanisms can provide useful indicators for the diagnosis and management of affected infants. When evaluating a neonate with leukocyte abnormalities, it is helpful to recall that some varieties of these abnormalities are common and others are exceedingly rare. If neutropenia persists for more than 5 days, further evaluation is indicated, particularly if the neutrophil count is less than 500 cells per microliter. Because of the immaturity of the immune system in newborns, early treatment should be initiated to prevent severe consequences. The etiology of leukocyte abnormalities and the seriousness of clinical features determine treatment (antibiotics, granulocytes transfusions, intravenous immunoglobulins, or granulocytes – colony stimulating factor administration). This chapter will focus on the features of newborns’ immune system and higlight the most common causes of leukocyte abnormalities and key therapeutic options.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Perinatal InstituteCincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical CenterCincinnatiUSA

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