The present study was designed to further the characterization of age- related changes in the deformability of human erythrocytes. The top (approximately young) and bottom (approximately old) 10% fractions of density-separated red cells from ten normal donors were subjected to graded levels of shear stress in a rheoscope. Measurements were made of steady-state elongation (cells tank treading in a state of dynamic equilibrium) and the time course of shape recovery following abrupt cessation of shear. In parallel with the rheologic experiments, several physical and chemical properties were assayed to determine correlates of mechanical properties. These included mean cell volume, mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration, type A1 hemoglobin, glucosylation of membrane proteins, and membrane phospholipid and protein concentration. The microrheologic observations revealed that only about 90% of the old cells retained their capacity to tank tread. However, the tank-treading cells elongated less than their younger counterparts at corresponding levels of shear stress, thus demonstrating a reduced level of deformability. Further analysis of the data indicates that increases in membrane viscosity and elastic modulus along with a significant loss in excess surface area contribute to the limitation of the ability of the older cells to change shape.

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