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Red blood cell mechanics

Mohandas Narla, DSc
Section Editor
Stanley L Schrier, MD
Deputy Editor
Jennifer S Tirnauer, MD


During its passage through the circulation, an erythrocyte that is 7 to 8 microns in diameter must elongate, tank tread, and otherwise deform to pass through 3 micron diameter capillaries and 1 micron wide and 0.5 micron thick endothelial slits in the red pulp of the spleen (picture 1). Thus, during its 120-day life span, the erythrocyte must undergo extensive passive deformation and must be mechanically stable to resist fragmentation [1,2].

Red cell deformability is influenced by three distinct cellular components [3,4]:

Cell shape or cell geometry, which determines the ratio of cell surface area to cell volume (SA/V); higher values of SA/V facilitate deformation.

Cytoplasmic viscosity, which is primarily regulated by the mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration (MCHC) and is therefore influenced by alterations in cell volume.

Membrane deformability and mechanical stability, which are regulated by multiple membrane properties, which include elastic shear modulus, bending modulus, and yield stress.

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Literature review current through: Dec 2017. | This topic last updated: Aug 18, 2017.
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