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The page below is a sample from the LabCE course Bone Marrow Aspiration: Normal Hematopoiesis and Basic Interpretive Procedures. Access the complete course and earn ASCLS P.A.C.E.-approved continuing education credits by subscribing online.

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Lymphocytes mature in the lymph nodes rather than in the bone marrow and therefore are not routinely assessed when deciding if a marrow has "trilinear" (myeloid, erythroid, megkaryocytic) maturation. However, they are normally present in the bone marrow and, when clustered in a lymphoid follicle, can be very prominent.

Since lymphocytes mature in the lymph nodes, they will appear identical to peripheral blood lymphocytes when viewed in the bone marrow. They will have the same range of variation in size and cytoplasm and will demonstrate the same types of viral transformations noted in the peripheral blood. Viral/atypical lymphocytes are combined together with normal lymphocytes in a bone marrow differential count and not placed into their own category, as they are in a peripheral blood differential. However, the hematopathologist may include this information in the interpretation, if these changes are noted.

Lymphocytes can be found scattered throughout the bone marrow and must be distinguished from early erythroid precursors, which they can closely resemble. Lymphocytes are frequently found in and around early NRBC clusters.

In the top image on the right, notice the medium-sized lymphocyte (red arrow) next to the two basophilic normoblasts (blue arrow). The color and texture of the scant lymphoid cytoplasm is almost identical to the NRBC, which can be a bit confusing. However, observe the differences in the nuclei between the two cell types. The lymphocyte has a less distinct chromatin clumping pattern than the basophilic normoblasts and the lymphocyte does not have any "nuclear pores." Also, the lymphocyte has an irregularly-shaped nucleus that is hugging the cytoplasmic border, while the NRBC has a round and regular, centrally-placed nucleus.

Identify the three lymphocytes circling the NRBCs in the second image (see red arrows). Notice the chromatin of the lymphocytes; the lymphoid smudgy/clumpy pattern is certainly not as dense and clumped as what is noted in the NRBCs. This nuclear difference becomes more pronounced as the erythroids mature. The cytoplasmic differences should be more apparent as well, since lymphocytes will never produce hemoglobin.