Cellular dynamics of mammalian red blood cell production in the erythroblastic island niche

  • Jia Hao YeoEmail author
  • Yun Wah Lam
  • Stuart T. FraserEmail author


Red blood cells, or erythrocytes, make up approximately a quarter of all cells in the human body with over 2 billion new erythrocytes made each day in a healthy adult human. This massive cellular production system is coupled with a set of cell biological processes unique to mammals, in particular, the elimination of all organelles, and the expulsion and destruction of the condensed erythroid nucleus. Erythrocytes from birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish possess nuclei, mitochondria and other organelles: erythrocytes from mammals lack all of these intracellular components. This review will focus on the dynamic changes that take place in developing erythroid cells that are interacting with specialized macrophages in multicellular clusters termed erythroblastic islands. Proerythroblasts enter the erythroblastic niche as large cells with active nuclei, mitochondria producing heme and energy, and attach to the central macrophage via a range of adhesion molecules. Proerythroblasts then mature into erythroblasts and, following enucleation, in reticulocytes. When reticulocytes exit the erythroblastic island, they are smaller cells, without nuclei and with few mitochondria, possess some polyribosomes and have a profoundly different surface molecule phenotype. Here, we will review, step-by-step, the biophysical mechanisms that regulate the remarkable process of erythropoiesis with a particular focus on the events taking place in the erythroblastic island niche. This is presented from the biological perspective to offer insight into the elements of red blood cell development in the erythroblastic island niche which could be further explored with biophysical modelling systems.


Erythroblastic island Mammalian erythropoiesis Nuclear condensation 



STF thanks the members of the Laboratory of Blood Cell Development for their feedback. YWL was supported by sabbatical leave granted by the City University of Hong Kong. In particular, we thank Dr. Badwi Bob Boumelhem for his assistance with confocal imaging. Confocal images presented here were prepared using the Zeiss LSM800 confocal system supported by the Ian Potter Foundation. We acknowledge the Bosch Institute Advanced Microscopy Facility and technical support by Mr. Chad Moore and Mr. Mohammad Nasir Uddin.

Compliance with ethical standards

This work was performed with appropriate ethical approval.


JHY gratefully acknowledges the support of Professor NGW and Mrs. Ann Macintosh Memorial Scholarship, Discipline of Anatomy and Histology, University of Sydney. The work from the Laboratory of Blood Cell Development, University of Sydney, presented here is supported by NWG Macintosh Memorial Award. STF gratefully thanks the Discipline of Anatomy and Histology, University of Sydney, for their support.

Conflict of interest

Jia Hao Yeo declares that he has no conflict of interest. Yun Wah Lam declares that he has no conflict of interest. Stuart T. Fraser declares that he has no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This work was performed with the appropriate animal ethics committee (University of Sydney) approval.


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Copyright information

© International Union for Pure and Applied Biophysics (IUPAB) and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Discipline of Anatomy and Histology, School of Medical SciencesUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.School of ChemistryUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  3. 3.Discipline of Physiology, School of Medical SciencesUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  4. 4.Department of ChemistryCity University of Hong KongKowloon TongHong Kong
  5. 5.Bosch Institute, School of Medical SciencesUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  6. 6.University of Sydney Nano InstituteSydneyAustralia

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