Reticulocyte hemoglobin: an integrated parameter for evaluation of erythropoietic activity

Am J Clin Pathol. 1997 Aug;108(2):133-42. doi: 10.1093/ajcp/108.2.133.


Traditional reticulocyte counts provide only a partial estimate of the erythropoietic bone marrow activity and do not account for qualitative variations of reticulocyte cellular indexes and hemoglobin content in particular. We have studied a new integrated parameter, reticulocyte hemoglobin (retHb), that quantifies in grams per liter the hemoglobin contained in the circulating reticulocyte compartment and is obtained by multiplying the absolute reticulocyte count and the reticulocyte cell hemoglobin content. In 50 normal control subjects, retHb values were 1.76 +/- 0.59 g/L. The retHb values were lower in patients double heterozygous for HbS and HbC (SC disease) (3.33 +/- 1.52 g/L, n = 13) compared with homozygous HbS disease (SS) with concomitant alpha-thalassemia (5.27 +/- 1.51 g/L and 5.48 +/- 1.06 g/L for 12 patients with 3 alpha-genes and 3 patients with 2 alpha-genes, respectively) and to SS disease with no alpha-thalassemia (6.47 +/- 3.05, n = 20). The hemoglobin contained in the red blood cell pool (rbcHb) also can be calculated by subtracting retHb from the total hemoglobin. The ratio between the two pools (rbcHb/retHb, normal value 76.6 +/- 21.9, n = 50) provides a rough estimate of red blood cell survival. It was 9.8 +/- 4.1 in SS disease, 16.2 +/- 10.1 and 14.7 +/- 5.0 in SS disease with 3 and 2 normal alpha-genes, respectively, and 36.6 +/- 17.8 in SC disease with no alpha-thalassemia. We also studied retHb in patients receiving hydroxyurea therapy for SS disease, intravenous or oral iron for iron deficiency, or recombinant human erythropoietin (r-HuEPO) therapy. All these conditions are characterized by changes in reticulocyte counts and marked variations in reticulocyte cellular hemoglobin contents, which can be integrated into the retHb parameter. Measurement of retHb and the rbcHb/retHb ratio may provide an estimate of the reduction in red blood cell survival and the severity of hemolysis in various anemias and allow more precise monitoring of the response to hydroxyurea, iron, r-HuEPO, or other therapies.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / drug therapy
  • Anemia, Sickle Cell / drug therapy
  • Anemia, Sickle Cell / metabolism
  • Anemia, Sickle Cell / physiopathology
  • Antisickling Agents / therapeutic use
  • Erythropoiesis / drug effects
  • Erythropoiesis / physiology*
  • Erythropoietin / administration & dosage
  • Hematology / methods
  • Hemoglobins / analysis*
  • Humans
  • Hydroxyurea / therapeutic use
  • Injections, Intravenous
  • Iron / administration & dosage
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Reference Values
  • Reticulocyte Count
  • Reticulocytes / chemistry*


  • Antisickling Agents
  • Hemoglobins
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Erythropoietin
  • Iron
  • Hydroxyurea