What is the life cycle of erythrocytes?

Updated: Nov 26, 2019
  • Author: Joseph E Maakaron, MD; Chief Editor: Emmanuel C Besa, MD  more...
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Erythroid precursors develop in bone marrow at rates usually determined by the requirement for sufficient circulating Hb to oxygenate tissues adequately. Erythroid precursors differentiate sequentially from stem cells to progenitor cells to erythroblasts to normoblasts in a process requiring growth factors and cytokines. [2] This process of differentiation requires several days. Normally, erythroid precursors are released into circulation as reticulocytes.

Reticulocytes are so called because of the reticular meshwork of rRNA they harbor. They remain in the circulation for approximately 1 day before they mature into erythrocytes, after the digestion of RNA by reticuloendothelial cells. The mature erythrocyte remains in circulation for about 120 days before being engulfed and destroyed by phagocytic cells of the reticuloendothelial system.

Erythrocytes are highly deformable and increase their diameter from 7 µm to 13 µm when they traverse capillaries with a 3-µm diameter. They possess a negative charge on their surface, which may serve to discourage phagocytosis. Because erythrocytes have no nucleus, they lack a Krebs cycle and rely on glycolysis via the Embden-Meyerhof and pentose pathways for energy. Many enzymes required by the aerobic and anaerobic glycolytic pathways decrease within the cell as it ages. In addition, the aging cell has a decrease in potassium concentration and an increase in sodium concentration. These factors contribute to the demise of the erythrocyte at the end of its 120-day lifespan.

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