Cells in the Human Body | 14 Types with Examples and Functions

Cells in the human body are of different types based on their structure and function.

Scientifically, a Cell is the basic unit of life.

A group of cells form a tissue and a group of tissues form an organ.

Further, organs make up an organ system, and a group of organ systems makes up the human body.

So, if an organ is damaged, the cells and cell structure in the organ are also damaged.

Different Types of cells in the human body

For ease of learning, we will classify them based on the tissues they form and their functions.

Cells in the Human Body Based on the tissue they form

1. Bone cells

  • They are the hardest of the body cells and are bound together by the presence of calcium and phosphate.
  • They provide strength, flexibility, and frame to the body.
  • Further, they enclose essential organs like the brain, heart, lungs, eyes, etc. In addition, they provide the base for the alignment of the skeletal muscles.

2. Cartilage cells (Chondrocytes)

  • These cells are part of the cartilage in the body.
  • They are similar to the bone cells that form a hard yet elastic tissue.
chondrocyte cells
Chondrocyte cells spread in matrix
  • The matrix around these chondrocyte cells is loose and flexible compared to those of bone cells.
  • Hence, the cartilage tissue can be freely bent as you can notice your external ear or knee cap.
  • They form the ear pinna, knee caps, intervertebral discs and are present in between large bones to help them move freely, like in between two ribs, spinal bones, joints.

3. Nerve cells

  • These cells are part of the nervous system.
  • Some of these cells are the longest cells of the body, ranging up to 100 centimeters in length.
nerve cell body showing dendrites, axon and myelin sheath
Structure of a nerve cell
  • By features, they are very long, with many branches at either end.
  • Unlike other cells, they never divide or multiply during their lifetime.
  • Once formed during the fetus stage, they live until the entire life of an individual.
  • They are present all over the body and extend to the superficial and deeper most parts of the body.
  • These cells are found in plenty in the brain and the spinal cord. They combine to form the nervous tissue.

4. Epithelial cells

epithelial cell with cilia and microvilli on apical surface
  • These cells as the name indicates form surface covering tissues.
  • They are again of different shapes and sizes like cuboidal, flattened, columnar, etc.
  • They can be found as covering layers of all the organs or as inner linings.
  • They are present in the skin, scalp, respiratory tract, digestive tract, over the surface of the heart, and more. Ex: Skin cells, mucous cells.
  • They also form essential structures like the nephrons in the kidney, which help in the filtration of the blood.

5. Muscle cells

  • These cells are responsible for the movements of the body.
  • They are also called myocytes and are present in the muscle tissues.
  • They are rich in proteins like actin and myosin, due to which they contract.
  • They are mostly long, large and can provide movements to the body.
  • They are three types of muscle cells, viz. the skeletal, cardiac, and smooth muscle cells.
  • Skeletal muscle cells are attached to long bones and assist in their movements (by muscle contraction).
skeletal muscle cells with bands and nucleus.
  • They are also called striated cells as they have bands or striations on them, as seen above (white and red bands).
  • These bands are indicative of actin and myosin filaments, which help in contraction.
  • Cardiac muscle cells are present only in the heart muscle and responsible for heartbeats.
cardiac cells showing branches in between along with bands and nucleus.

  • These are also striated but have branches with others.
  • Smooth muscle cells are flexible yet, can contract and relax with ease.
  • They are present in the stomach, intestine, blood vessel walls (vascular tissue), helping in the movement of food through the gut.
smooth muscle cells with nucleus
  • Muscle cells also store glucose, by which they generate the body’s energy and heat.

6  Secretory cells

  • These cells, as the name indicates, are secretory in function.
  • Their size is comparatively large, and they are mostly present in the glands.
  • They secrete specific secretions containing enzymes or hormones.

Examples:

a) Salivary gland cells called acini secrete saliva

b) Gastric cells present in the stomach secrete gastric juice.

7. Adipose cells

  • These are fat cells and spread in a loose areolar matrix to form adipose tissue.
  • Adipocytes are large and filled with large fat globules due to which the nucleus is pushed to one side.
  • These cells of adipose tissue are mainly seen in the soles, palms, bums, below the skin.

Their main function is

  1. To store energy (as fat)
  2. Prevent heat loss from the skin.
  3. Maintain body temperature,
  4. Reduce friction due to contact with hard surfaces.

8. Blood cells

red blood cells and white blood cells with shape

These cells include three basic types like

a) Red blood cells (RBC’s): These cells are called corpuscles and are not living in nature due to the absence of a nucleus in them. They are red-colored due to the presence of pigment hemoglobin. Their primary role is to carry oxygen from the lungs to the tissues.

b) White blood cells (WBC’s): Unlike RBCs, they have a nucleus and are living. They are of five different types and play a prominent role in body defense against pathogens.

c) Thrombocytes (platelets). These cells are small of the three and are involved in the process of hemostasis, i.e., blood clot formation, to prevent bleeding due to injury.

These cells are always motile and never stay in one place. They have a limited lifespan before they are destroyed in the body.

Unlike other cells, they never multiply to form new cells. Instead, new cells are formed from other cells.

Cell types based on their function

Different cells carry out distinct functions in the body like

Conductive cells

Nerve cells, muscle cells come under this category. They have an inherent ability to conduct an electric impulse from one region to other distant body areas.

Connective cells

Bone cells, blood cells come under this category. They help connect other cells and tissues.

Glandular cells

These cells are secretory. They form glands like the pancreas, salivary glands, etc., and help produce enzymes, hormones, etc.

Storage cells

Adipose cells, some liver cells store materials like fat for later use. This fat is consumed in times of starvation and also in excess cold temperatures.

Supportive cells

These are the cells that are present as support to adjacent cells.

Ex: The Glial cells in the brain and spinal cord provide nourishment to the nerve cells and protect them from shocks and trauma.

The special type of cells

These are specialized cells with some crucial functions. They are

a) Sperms

sperm structure
Sperm cell with its parts in detail
  • These cells, unlike others, have haploid DNA with 23 chromosomes (i.e., have only one set of a chromosome).
  • They are present only in males after puberty in the seminal vesicles.
  • These cells have a tail that enables them to swim and move in the female uterus.
  • They also release an enzyme hyaluronidase, which helps them penetrate through uterine tissue and reach the oocytes.

b) Oocytes

  • Cells are haploid and present in the adult female genital system.
  • They are also haploid like the sperms.
  • They start to form after puberty and continue so till the stage of menopause.
  • They accept sperm cells to form a zygote (fertilized egg). This zygote further grows in the uterus to form a baby.

c) Stem cells

  • These are parent cells that can differentiate into any other body cell when required.
  • These stem cells have gained prominence due to their promising role in treatment of diseases.

d) Rods & cones of eyes

  • They contain photosensitive pigments that help to capture the light and convert it into a nerve impulse.

e) Ciliated cells

  • These cells are present as the lining of the respiratory tract, esophagus and have threadlike cilia, which move in one particular direction.
  • Their movement helps in the movement of food from the buccal cavity into the stomach and phlegm and other wastes out of the respiratory tract.

f) Blood cells

  • These are quite interesting cells as they are freely moving in the body. Blood cells freely flow in the liquid blood.
  • Some of them are not alive (RBC‘s), while others are alive and have varied shapes like WBC, platelets (spindle shape).
  • Further, these WBC’s are of different types. Of them, macrophages can eat (gulp) any foreign particle like bacteria in the body. Hence they are body defense cells.

g) Islets of Pancreas

  • These cells secrete pancreatic hormones like insulin and glucagon.

h) Hepatocytes

  • These cells are present in the liver and constitute 80% of its mass. They are involved in the breakdown of toxins like drugs and other waste materials.
  • The cells are large with many mitochondria and abundant endoplasmic reticulum to help in liver function.
  • Unlike other body cells, they are the only ones that can regenerate.

i) Kupffer cells

  • These cells are located in the liver and are modified macrophage cells. They destroy the old and worn-out red blood cells in the liver.

J) Goblet cells

  • These cells are dispersed in the inner layer of the small intestine, and they secrete mucus.

K) Paneth cells

  • They secrete anti-microbial proteins and help in defense against pathogens in the intestine.

L) Mesangial cells

  • These cells are found in the glomerulus of the nephron in between the capillary loop.
  • They help to remove trapped residues to keep the filter free of clogging.

Frequently asked Questions and Answers.

  1. How many cells are present in the human body?

    By an estimate, there are 37 trillion cells in our body,

  2. Are there any significant differences between animals and human cells?

    There are no significant differences between the cells of animals and humans.
    However, there are quite a lot between that animal and plant cells.

  3. How many chromosomes are in a human Somatic cell

    Somatic cells mean normal body cells and it has 46 chromosomes.

References:

  1. Book-Campbell Biology.
  2. Role of Adipose tissue.
  3. Anatomy and Physiology by Ross and Wilson.

163 thoughts on “Cells in the Human Body | 14 Types with Examples and Functions”

  1. Hi David, seems you are talking about alveolar macrophages which can roam in the airway tract to arrest foreign particles. These cells are meant to engulf viruses and other foreign particles and destroy them.
    These macrophages can produce antibodies against virus particles which arrest them and help reduce viral load naturally. Hence, most viral infections including recent covid-19 are self-limiting in the body.
    I am not sure of electromagnetic effects on viruses. But in general, these waves at specific frequencies can have an effect on the genetic component of cells including the virus.
    Viruses can enter the body through the air (respiratory tract, blood I,e, by infection or another way of contact where body fluids can be involved.

    Alveolar macrophages.

  2. So are cells free roaming in the lungs.? Can viruses attach to them in the lung then multiply.? I’ve seen videos that say you cannot CATCH a virus. The body gets rid of the viral load naturally when external forces, i.e., electromagnetic fields, are increased. Apparently, to get a virus, it needs to be injected into the body. Please explain.????????

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  9. @shyamnathani! RBC is needed to transport the oxygen from lungs to issues for generation of energy. Male body generates androgens (hormones) which triggers excess RBC formation. This excess RBC is required as male has more muscle mass and energy requirement than a female. Hence you can also notice that male hemoglobin level is 13-18 gm/dl while female HB level is 12-17 gm/dl. So in males not only RBC count but also HB level is high to meet the energy demands. And of-course male muscle mass is again due to andorgens.

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