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Lymphocytes originate from the lymphoid lineage (as opposed to the myeloid lineage). Lymphoid cell development is not restricted to the bone marrow and takes place in primary and secondary lymphoid organs.

Lymphocytes defend the organism against infection by distinguishing the body’s own cells from foreign ones. Molecules recognised by the body as foreign are known as antigens. Each lymphocyte is only stimulated by one specific antigen. When lymphocytes recognise this antigen, they produce chemicals to fight it.

There are three main types of lymphocytes: B lymphocytes, T lymphocytes and natural killer (NK) cells. Lymphocytes belong to the mononuclear white blood cells. Although compared to other white blood cells all lymphocytes are small and round without granules, there is a large variety of different subtypes, and distinguishing between them morphologically is tricky.

Reasons for an increased lymphocyte count include infection or inflammation, as well as certain types of malignancies, especially haematological malignancies. Despite giving an absolute and relative lymphocyte count, several flags on Sysmex analysers can point to suspicious lymphocytes for which, if present, a follow-up test should be performed.

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