Cytokines are small proteins that act as chemical messengers for communication between cells. Almost every cell in the body is capable of secreting cytokines, the many families of which are made up of proteins, peptides, or glycoproteins. Each family is produced for a specific function and matches a receptor on the surface of its target cell type. The functions of these proteins include regulating immune responses or inflammation and stimulating blood cell production. Cytokines have both local and systemic effects and may act on the same cell from which they were released, or other nearby cells.
Chemokines, one type of cytokine, send messages to other cells through a process called chemotaxis. The messengers initiate the immune response by alerting other cells of threats and guiding them to the site of injury or infection. Interferons are proteins secreted in response to bacteria, viruses, parasites, or cancer cells. They inhibit virus replication by immediately signaling nearby cells to shield themselves from the virus and activating natural killer T-cells to destroy infected cells.
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