Viruses and immune function

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Apoptosis: self-destruction of a cell.

Cytotoxins: chemicals that kill cells.

Lysis: cell death because of damaged membranes.

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Cytotoxin gun

Cytotoxins are the chemical weapons that Killer T-cells use to destroy infected cells. Viruses take over healthy cells and trick them into making many more viruses. When those viruses get out, they can infect even more healthy cells. By killing infected cells before these viruses get out, cytotoxins protect your healthy cells. 

Different kinds of cytotoxins work in different ways. Some cytotoxins make holes in the cell membrane, so the inside of the cell is not protected from the outside.  Without a full membrane, the cell dies. Cell death because of this kind of break in the cell membrane is called lysis.



Other cytotoxins turn on a program in the cell that causes it to self-destruct. This is called apoptosis. The dark spots in the picture are cells that have been destroyed by apoptosis. Macrophages, the first member of the body's clean up crew, remove these dead cells.

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View Citation

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Bibliographic details:

  • Article: Cytotoxins
  • Author(s): Dr. Biology
  • Publisher: Arizona State University School of Life Sciences Ask A Biologist
  • Site name: ASU - Ask A Biologist
  • Date published: March 9, 2011
  • Date accessed: May 21, 2024
  • Link:

APA Style

Dr. Biology. (2011, March 09). Cytotoxins. ASU - Ask A Biologist. Retrieved May 21, 2024 from

American Psychological Association. For more info, see

Chicago Manual of Style

Dr. Biology. "Cytotoxins". ASU - Ask A Biologist. 09 March, 2011.

MLA 2017 Style

Dr. Biology. "Cytotoxins". ASU - Ask A Biologist. 09 Mar 2011. ASU - Ask A Biologist, Web. 21 May 2024.

Modern Language Association, 7th Ed. For more info, see
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