Continuous Percoll Gradient Centrifugation of Erythrocytes-Explanation of Cellular Bands and Compromised Age Separation

Cells. 2022 Apr 11;11(8):1296. doi: 10.3390/cells11081296.


(1) Background: When red blood cells are centrifuged in a continuous Percoll-based density gradient, they form discrete bands. While this is a popular approach for red blood cell age separation, the mechanisms involved in banding were unknown. (2) Methods: Percoll centrifugations of red blood cells were performed under various experimental conditions and the resulting distributions analyzed. The age of the red blood cells was measured by determining the protein band 4.1a to 4.1b ratio based on western blots. Red blood cell aggregates, so-called rouleaux, were monitored microscopically. A mathematical model for the centrifugation process was developed. (3) Results: The red blood cell band pattern is reproducible but re-centrifugation of sub-bands reveals a new set of bands. This is caused by red blood cell aggregation. Based on the aggregation, our mathematical model predicts the band formation. Suppression of red blood cell aggregation reduces the band formation. (4) Conclusions: The red blood cell band formation in continuous Percoll density gradients could be explained physically by red blood cell aggregate formation. This aggregate formation distorts the density-based red blood cell age separation. Suppressing aggregation by osmotic swelling has a more severe effect on compromising the RBC age separation to a higher degree.

Keywords: Percoll; age separation; aggregation; band 4.1 protein; band formation; blood sedimentation; complex fluids; density gradient; micromechanical modeling; red blood cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Separation / methods
  • Centrifugation, Density Gradient
  • Erythrocytes*
  • Povidone*
  • Silicon Dioxide


  • Percoll
  • Silicon Dioxide
  • Povidone