Using a laser diffraction technique, we have studied factors that influence the deformability of erythrocytes. Variations in suspending medium osmolality and applied shear stress were employed to isolate the individual contributions to whole cell deformability of internal viscosity, surface area-to-volume ratio, and viscoelastic properties of the membrane. An experimental system was devised in which normal cells were modified in vitro to induce specific alterations in each factor. Measurements of deformability as a function of medium osmolality showed characteristic behavior of the modified cells. Reduced surface area-to-volume ratio was detected by an exaggeration of the normal decrease in deformability as medium osmolality was decreased. In contrast, increased internal viscosity was detected by an increase in deformability as osmolality was decreased. Finally, decreased membrane flexibility was detected by reduced deformation at low shear stress. These methods of analysis were applied to cells from patients with hereditary spherocytosis, hereditary pyropoikilocytosis, and hemoglobin CC disease to define the basis of reduced deformability. Hereditary spherocytes showed the combined effects of reduced surface area and increased internal viscosity. Hereditary pyropoikilocytes revealed the effects of severely reduced surface area-to-volume ratio. Hemoglobin CC cells showed only the effects of high internal viscosity. An increase in the membrane shear modulus (decreased membrane deformability) was not evident in these disorders.
N Mohandas, M R Clark, M S Jacobs, S B Shohet