Normal red blood cells' shape stabilized by membrane's in-plane ordering

Sci Rep. 2019 Dec 24;9(1):19742. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-56128-0.


Red blood cells (RBCs) are present in almost all vertebrates and their main function is to transport oxygen to the body tissues. RBCs' shape plays a significant role in their functionality. In almost all mammals in normal conditions, RBCs adopt a disk-like (discocyte) shape, which optimizes their flow properties in vessels and capillaries. Experimentally measured values of the reduced volume (v) of stable discocyte shapes range in a relatively broad window between v ~ 0.58 and 0.8. However, these observations are not supported by existing theoretical membrane-shape models, which predict that discocytic RBC shape is stable only in a very narrow interval of v values, ranging between v ~ 0.59 and 0.65. In this study, we demonstrate that this interval is broadened if a membrane's in-plane ordering is taken into account. We model RBC structures by using a hybrid Helfrich-Landau mesoscopic approach. We show that an extrinsic (deviatoric) curvature free energy term stabilizes the RBC discocyte shapes. In particular, we show on symmetry grounds that the role of extrinsic curvature is anomalously increased just below the nematic in-plane order-disorder phase transition temperature.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Shape*
  • Erythrocyte Membrane / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Models, Cardiovascular*