A detailed study of time-dependent changes in human red blood cells: from reticulocyte maturation to erythrocyte senescence

Br J Haematol. 2006 Nov;135(3):395-404. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2141.2006.06279.x. Epub 2006 Sep 21.


The use of microfabrication technology in the study of biological systems continues to grow rapidly in both prevalence and ascendancy. Customised microdevices that provide superior results than traditional macroscopic methods can be designed in order to investigate specific cell types and cellular processes. This study showed the benefit of this approach in precisely characterising the progressive losses of surface area and haemoglobin (Hb) content by the human red blood cell (RBC), from newborn reticulocyte to senescent erythrocyte. The high-throughput, multiparametric measurements made on individual cells with a specialised microdevice enabled, for the first time, delineation and quantification of the losses that occur during the two stages of the human RBC lifespan. Data acquired on tens of thousands of red cells showed that nearly as much membrane area is lost during the 1-2 d of reticulocyte maturation (c. 10-14%) as in the subsequent 4 months of erythrocyte ageing (c. 16-17%). The total decrease in Hb over the red cell lifespan is also estimated (c. 15%) and a model describing the complete time-course of diminishing mean RBC area and Hb is proposed. The relationship between the losses of Hb and area, and their possible influence on red cell lifespan, are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Centrifugation, Density Gradient / methods
  • Erythrocyte Aging / physiology
  • Erythrocyte Membrane / physiology
  • Erythrocytes / chemistry
  • Erythrocytes / physiology*
  • Female
  • Hemoglobins / analysis
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mathematics
  • Medical Laboratory Science / instrumentation
  • Models, Biological
  • RNA / analysis
  • Reticulocytes / physiology
  • Time Factors


  • Hemoglobins
  • RNA