Platelets

Platelets are essential to the formation of a blood clot. A blood clot is a mass of interwoven fibers and blood cells that prevents excess loss of blood from a wound. Platelets are not whole cells. They are fragments of very large cells that were formed in the bone marrow. As you can see in Figure 46-13a, platelets get their name from their platelike structure. Platelets lack a nucleus and have a life span of 7 to 12 days. A cubic micrometer of blood may contain as many as half a million platelets.

When a blood vessel tears or rips, platelets congregate at the damaged site, sticking together and forming a small plug. The vessel constricts, slowing blood flow to the area. Then, special clotting factors are released from the platelets and the damaged tissue. These factors begin a series of chemical reactions that occur at the site of the bleeding. The last step in this series brings about the production of a protein called fibrin. Fibrin molecules consist of long, sticky chains. As you can see in Figure 46-14, these chains form a net that traps red blood cells, and the mass of fibrin and red blood cells hardens into a clot, or scab.

Hemophilia is a disorder caused by the absence of one or more of the proteins required for blood clotting. When a person with hemophilia is injured, bleeding continues for much longer than it would in a person without hemophilia. Large cuts or internal injuries can be life threatening. Today, people with hemophilia are treated with injections of the missing clotting factors.

Stimulus figure 46-14

The release of enzymes from platelets at the site of a damaged blood vessel initiates a "clotting cascade."

Blood clot

Stimulus

Blood vessel

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