Teenage RBCs

March 20, 2012 at 3:25 pm

By Billie Rubin, Hemoglobin’s Catabolic Cousin, reporting from the labs of Stanford Blood Center

Today is the first day of spring! Get ready to be wowed by flowers blooming, love blossoming, and newborn farm animals running around. Youth and spring make blood bankers think of reticulocytes, red blood cells that haven’t fully matured (the teenagers of the red cell world).

When these red blood cells (RBCs) are about ready to mature, they slip out of the bone marrow into the circulation to hang out in a corner and try to act like the big guys; and in about the space of one day, the young cells mature into adult RBCs.

Retics (as their friends call them) make up about 1% of RBCs and look a little different than mature RBCs. If their numbers in the blood circulation become higher than normal, it could mean that the RBCs are being destroyed, which makes the bone marrow crank out the young retics faster. So a reticulocyte count is an important piece in diagnosing certain diseases, such as hemolytic anemia. Ah, spring…