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Concise review: how do red blood cells born, live, and die?


The average life cycle of a human RBC is approximately 120 days. Generally, by this point, the cell is worn out and damaged. RBCs pass through both the spleen and liver, where specialised immune cells called macrophages are found. Macrophages recognise when an RBC is spent, and undergo a process called phagocytosis where they digest the cell. In this process, the iron in haemoglobin is recycled for use in new blood cells and the hem molecule is degraded, conjugated to bilirubin, and eliminated from the body. All the other cellular proteins are either recycled or eliminated. Historically, this process was thought to occur exclusively in the spleen, but recent studies have shown that it occurs in the bone marrow. The RBC has been analysed from many perspectives: cytological, haematological, and immunological, as well as from the focus of molecular biology, biophysics, and mathematics. Here we analyse how are red blood cells born and how they live and die in a brief overview of the whole process with special mention of the morphological aspects from bone marrow and spleen provided by transmission and scanning electron microscopy.

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Taken from J. Quigley JG, Means RT, Glader B. Wintrobe’s Clinical Hematology (13th Ed).2014

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We are indebted to the European Commission for the Equality Plus (Erasmus +) Grant (Ref. 2019-1-TR01-KA202-076789) and to Mrs. Elena Krishnevskaya for her outstanding collaboration in rare anaemia research and unconditional support for the preparation of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to J.L. Vives Corrons.

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This is a revision that includes the mention of different papers published by the authors in the “Escola Professional d’Hematologia Farreras Valenti” (University of Barcelona, 1983) under the leadership of Prof. Ciril Rozman Borstnar. Accordingly, the inclusion of ethical approval is not required here.

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Corrons, J.V., Casafont, L.B. & Frasnedo, E.F. Concise review: how do red blood cells born, live, and die?. Ann Hematol 100, 2425–2433 (2021).

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  • Erythrocytes
  • Ageing
  • Deformability
  • Bone marrow
  • Spleen electron microscopy