Cytokines vs Chemokines: Difference and Comparison

Suppose someone is studying in the field of medicine and especially cellular biology. Then it is obvious to come across two terms, cytokines and chemokines.

Their role is unique as arguments are natural defences of the body.  

The human body is designed in such a way that it can combat a range of diseases that mainly involve foreign organisms like bacteria.

In terms of the immune system, both terms are connected and create confusion. In this article, the difference between cytokines and chemokines is highlighted. 

Key Takeaways

  1. Cytokines are a broad category of proteins that play a role in cell signalling and immune responses. In contrast, chemokines are a specific subset of cytokines that direct the migration of immune cells to infection sites.
  2. Different cell types can produce both cytokines and chemokines, but chemokines primarily regulate leukocyte movement and positioning during immune responses.
  3. Cytokines exhibit diverse functions, including regulation of inflammation and cell growth, while chemokines mainly focus on guiding immune cells to areas of inflammation or injury.

Cytokines vs Chemokines 

The difference between cytokines and chemokines is that cytokines are small proteins produced by immune cells dominantly, which are vital in cell signalling. On the other hand, chemokines are specific cytokines that are particularly adapted for cell chemotaxis. 

Cytokines vs Chemokines

Cytokines are inflammatory molecules and by cells secreted as small proteins. Initially, they are produced by particular macrophages and T Helper cells.

To a specific receptor, they and initiate a reaction cascade to trigger an immune response. They also behave like hormones. 

A chemokine is a diverse group of different kinds of protein molecules. Their protein particles have low molecular weight.

Its chief function is leukocyte activation, and to the target site, they facilitate migration. The two different types of chemokines are homeostatic and inflammatory chemokines. 

Comparison Table  

Parameters of ComparisonCytokinesChemokines
InterpretationBy immune cells, these small proteins are produced dominantly which are vital in cell signaling.It is a specific cytokine that is particularly adapted for cells chemotaxis.
Size~5-20 kDa~8-10 kDa
AffectSeveral cells in the bodyMainly lymphocytes and leukocytes
Conserved cysteine residuesPresentAbsent
ExamplesIFN-γ, IFN-a, TNFα, IL-1,6,12, etc.CXCR1-7, CCL15, CCL21, CCL1, XCL1, etc.

What are Cytokines?  

Cytokines are a loose and broad category of small proteins which are vital in the signalling of the cell. They are peptides and fail to cross the cell’s lipid bilayer to enter the cytoplasm.

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Cytokines are involved in paracrine, endocrine, and autocrine signalling as agents of immunomodulation.  

It serves as a role of regulation in the immune system. Cytokines mediate the following healing process and infection resolution.

It consists of lymphokines, interleukins, interferons, and tumour necrosis factors, but not growth factors or hormones.

They are produced by a range of cells, such as mast cells, macrophages, T lymphocytes, and B lymphocytes.  

Cytokines act through receptors of cell surfaces and are especially vital in the immune system. They modulate the balance between cell-based and humoral immune responses.

They regulate the growth, responsiveness, and maturation of specific cell populations.  

Several cytokines inhibit or enhance the action of some other cytokines in complex ways. From cells, they are different, which are also vital molecules for cell signalling.

They are vital diseases and health, like cancer, trauma, inflammation, sepsis, and reproduction. 


What are Chemokines?  

Chemotactic cytokines, or chemokines, are small cytokine families of signalling proteins secreted by cells that induce leukocytes’ directional movement.

They are vital for biological processes consisting of wound healing, morphogenesis, and disease pathogenesis.  

According to structural and behaviour characteristics, cytokine proteins are divided into chemokines.

Apart from being mediating chemotaxis, chemokines are in mass approximately 8-10 kilodaltons and have cysteine residues, mainly four in number, in a conserved location that is the basis to form their 3D shape.  

Chemokine’s chief role is to act as a chemoattractant for guiding cell migration. Cells that are attracted through chemokines follow a signal of chemokine concentration increasing towards the chemokine source.

During the process of immune surveillance, some chemokines control the immune system’s cells.  

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When it comes to their role in development, some chemokines promote angiogenesis or guide cells to tissue and provide critical specific signals for the maturation of cells.

Others are inflammatory, and from a range of cells, they are released in response to viruses, bacterial infections, and physical damage-causing agents like urate crystals or silica. 

Main Differences Between Cytokines and Chemokines 

  1. When it comes to chemical messengers, cytokines are a broad family of these kinds of messengers which serves to bring about the response related to the immune. On the other hand, chemokines are just chemotactic cytokines.  
  2. The function of cytokines is to help in molecule signalling that mediates and regulates immunity to hematopoiesis and inflammation. Meanwhile, the function of chemokines is to direct the white blood cells’ migration to damaged or infected tissues.  
  3. In terms of importance, cytokine serves as a role of regulation in the immune system. Cytokines mediate the following healing process and infection resolution. Conversely, the importance of chemokines is to ensure that infection fails to spread from the origin of detection.  
  4. Cytokines can be classified into interleukins, chemokines, lymphokines, interferon, and tumour necrosis factor. On the flip side, chemokines can be classified into mainly four subfamilies such as XC, CC, CXC, and CX3C.  
  5. The involvement of cytokinesis in both cells mediated as well as humoral immunity. In contrast, chemokines are only involved in the immune system’s directing cells to a target site. 
Difference Between Cytokines and Chemokines

Last Updated : 19 June, 2023

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6 thoughts on “Cytokines vs Chemokines: Difference and Comparison”

  1. This article is informative about cytokines and chemokines. It gives a comprehensive understanding of their roles and functions in the immune system.

  2. This article is exemplary. It shows the differences and similarities in detail between cytokines and chemokines, which can be very confusing for people who are not familiar with the topic.

  3. The explanation provided in this article about cytokines and chemokines is indispensable, especially for students and professionals in the medical field.

  4. This post is crucial for people who are studying medicine. It provides all the essential information regarding these two terms and their impact on the immune system.

  5. I’m grateful for this post. I’ve been looking for a detailed explanation of the differences between cytokines and chemokines, and now I have a much clearer understanding.

  6. The detailed comparison provided in this article can greatly assist in having a clear understanding of these two terms, and their role in the immune system.


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