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This question arises because I saw that monocytes and leukocytes are commonly called 'mononuclear cells' in the scientific literature. The implication of course being that other immune sub-types are multi-nuclear!

I know of granulocytes (e.g. neutrophils) that are classed as 'polymorphonuclear' because their nuclei are segmented, and can alter their shapes, and muscle cells that fuse together to form one long cell (muscle fiber) with multiple nuclei. What other examples of multi-nucleated cells are there?

I am also interested in the advantages gained by cells having multiple (or segmented) nuclei?

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Technically, all the granulocytes (neutrophils, eosinophils, and basophils) have multiple lobes/segments, not multiple nuclei. Syncytia in cardiac muscle cells is important for coordinated contraction. Not sure about the rest.. – jello Oct 3 '12 at 5:09
@jello yes I realize that polymorphonuclear does not mean multiple nuclei, but 'mononuclear' does imply that 'ploynuclear' cells exist, and I am sure that muscle fibres do have multiple nuclei, because multiple cells fuse together. I'm interested to know the advantages of multiple nuclei, and what other cell types have it. Thanks – Luke Oct 3 '12 at 12:02

Muscle cells are the only cells I know of that are polynuclear. With respect to monocytes, a concise review of their nomenclature can be found in this paper by L Ziegler-Heitbrock, P Ancuta, S Crowe, et al. (Blood, 2010). Apparently it has had quite a complex and confused biochemical characterization, but the article states the name indeed derived from its single lobed, mononuclear morphology. This is in distinction to other phagocytes which have multi-lobular nuclei (polymorphonuclear cells).

With respect to advantages, a multinucleated cell makes sense when the speed of intracellular signalling is important (e.g., calcium diffusion). It may also be useful in the case of cells when the cell needs to coordinate the synthesis of large amounts of protein.

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Hepatocytes (liver cells) are also often binucleated, which I remember reading probably has something to do with the liver's filtering capabilities - backup code or excess code to handle harmful substances. – MCM Oct 8 '12 at 23:36
That's an example I was not aware of, but very interesting. – user560 Oct 10 '12 at 18:01

Another example of multinucleated cells is osteoclasts, which are specialized derivatives of macrophages that degrade bone matrix. They form by fusion of mononucleated progenitors and can accumulate many nuclei in a single large cell. In cell culture with mouse macrophages, it's common to obtain individual osteoclasts with 50-100 or more nuclei each.

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Can you back your answer up with a reference? – March Ho May 18 '15 at 6:04

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