The deformability characteristics of isolated subpopulations of irreversibly sickled cells (ISC) have been studied in an ektacytometer. Analysis of laser diffraction patterns of well-oxygenated cells subjected to shear stress in solutions of varying osmolality has demonstrated a profound influence of mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration and intracellular viscosity on the deformability of ISC. Virtually undeformable at 290 mosM, ISC became almost totally deformable at 130 mosM. In addition, when ISC membranes were loaded with normal hemoglobin at low concentration, they deformed easily in isotonic medium, as did resealed normal cell membranes. The restoration of deformability of ISC upon reduction of their hemoglobin concentration and internal viscosity to normal levels suggests that altered membrane properties are not the primary determinant of decreased deformability in these cells. Rather, cellular dehydration induced by previous sickling would appear to contribute in a major way to their abnormal rheological behavior.
M R Clark, N Mohandas, S B Shohet