What are specialised cells?

  • Specialised cells have a specific role to perform.

  • Each specialised cell has a different job to do. They have special features that allow them to do these jobs.

  • Muscle cells, for example, are held together in bundles, which pull together to make muscles contract.

Find out how a sports therapist uses his knowledge of specialised cells to help his clients

What are specialised cells?

Most cells share features such as having a nucleus, a cell membrane, cytoplasm and mitochondria.

There are differences between cells, too. Each type of cell, has its own job to do. These cells have special features that allow them to perform their functions effectively.

Here are some examples of specialised cells and the features they have to help them with their role:

Red blood cells

Red blood cells carry oxygen around the body. They are well suited to this function because:

  • They contain haemoglobin, which carries oxygen molecules.

  • They don't have a nucleus, allowing more space to carry oxygen.

  • They are a flat disc shape (bi-concave) which gives them a large surface area, and the best chance of absorbing as much oxygen as they can.

Nerve cells

Nerve cells transmit electrical signals. They are well suited to their function because:

  • They are thin, and can be more than 1 metre long. This means they can carry messages up and down the body over large distances.

  • Nerve cells have branched connections at each end. These join to other nerve cells, allowing them to pass messages around the body.

  • They have a fatty (myelin) sheath that surrounds them. The fatty sheath increases the speed at which the message can travel.

Illustration of a nerve cell

Muscle cells

Muscle cells bring parts of the body closer together. They are well suited to this function because:

  • Muscle cells are held together in bundles, which pull together to make muscles contract (get shorter and fatter).

There are different types of muscle cell, each perfectly adapted to its function:

  • Cardiac (heart) muscle cells are branched, and they join together to make a net. Cardiac muscle cells contract rhythmically, even outside the body. They never get tired.

  • Skeletal muscle is joined to bones. Its cells contract to make bones move and joints bend.

  • Smooth muscle cells make up thin sheets of muscle, such as the stomach lining. They can also be arranged in bundles, or rings, like that in the anus.

Cardiac, smooth and skeletal muscles

Using knowledge about muscles

Fitness trainers and physiotherapists are experts in muscle cells. They use their knowledge to teach people how to use their muscles to get fit and strong, and to help people to recover from injury.

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