"Toxic" neutrophils from humans with severe bacterial infections, identified by the presence of Döhle bodies, "toxic" granules, and vacuoles were shown to differ from normal neutrophils both in ultrastructure and in lysosome activity.
Döhle bodies were identified as lamellar aggregates of rough endoplasmic reticulum. Toxic granules corresponded to the azurophilic granules usually identified by Romanowsky stains only in neutrophil precursors. By electron microscopy such granules were large, electron-dense, and peroxidase positive; they could usually be distinguished from the smaller, less dense, "specific" granules also present in control neutrophils, but in the latter they became visible by light microscopy only after prolonged staining or following fixation with glutaraldehyde. These observations suggest that toxic granules represent an abnormal staining reaction of the large dense granules in the toxic cells, and not phagocytized material, newly formed abnormal granules or autophagic bodies.
Alkaline phosphatase activity was significantly greater in toxic neutrophils than in normal ones; 80% of the activity of both was located in the lysosome fraction. Beta glucuronidase was normal. Total acid phosphatase was normal, but the percentage located in the nonlysosome fraction of toxic neutrophils was increased, suggesting that lysosomes were "labilized."
Formation of neutral red vacuoles in supravitally stained preparations, an index of lysosome activity, occurred more rapidly in toxic neutrophils. This reaction paralleled degranulation and the formation of clear vacuoles in unstained wet mounts and could be blocked by colchicine, a lysosome stabilizer, or enhanced by procedures which activate lysosomes. "Autophagic" vacuoles were observed by electron microscopy in some toxic neutrophils.
These observations are discussed in relation to the concept that the "toxic" neutrophils in severe bacterial infection reflect cellular immaturity and/or stimulation or degeneration.