Erythrocytes (otherwise known as red blood cells (RBCs)), are the most common cell type in the body. They are responsible for oxygen (O2) transportation as well as carbon dioxide (CO2) exchange. Different from most cells, red cells have no nuclei in mammals due to the enucleation during the maturation. The structure of erythrocytes was shown to have a phospholipid bilayer membrane, membrane proteins and cell skeleton. It provides the stability that RBCs need for the circulation in the body systems. Also, this well-established structure makes it possible for them to accomplish ion and gas exchange, which therefore keeps the osmolality and pressure stable for extracellular and intracellular environment. Although a great variety of red cell characteristics have been investigated, the mechanism and kinetics of RBCs under certain environmental stimulation have not been well studied. In this work, we studied the development of cell membrane by testing the deformability change of erythrocytes during maturation. With the design of our microfluidic channels in ex vivo experiments, we then learned that RBC can work not only as O2 transporter but also as oxygen sensor itself. When oxygen level decrease, TBC membrane becomes softer and leads to blood flow increase eventually. We then investigated the mechanism of RBC membrane change on a molecular level to study the mechanism of RBC deformability change under hypoxia. We matched our findings in both in vivo and ex vivo experiments. Via in vivo experiments, we could even connect cerebral circulation to neuroactivity. Furthermore, the behavior of RBCs under hypoxia and in shear flow, such as the ATP release, was studied as well via ex vivo experiments. In the study, we focused on the mechanosensitive channel Piezo1 on RBC membrane and found the connection between this ion channel and RBC ATP release.
Microsystems Engineering (Ph.D.)
Department, Program, or Center
Microsystems Engineering (KGCOE)
Steven W. Day
Zhou, Sitong, "The Dynamic Roles of Red Blood Cell in Microcirculation" (2019). Thesis. Rochester Institute of Technology. Accessed from
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