Certain morphologic changes in the erythrocytes, first described accurately by Heinz in 1890, have been noted by many investigators both in experimental animals and in man. These Heinz bodies, called by various names, appear to be newly formed particles originating either from the protoplasm or the membrane of the red blood cells in the course of irreversible injury by a toxic agent. The chemical nature of these particles is uncertain but they appear to consist largely of denatured proteins. They may occur in the blood in the absence of methemoglobin or sulfhemoglobin and without anemia, these phenomena being independent of each others. Removal of these bodies from the blood stream is frequently accomplished by their destruction in the spleen, often with resulting increase in size of this organ.
From the staining characteristics of Heinz bodies it is usually possible to distinguish them from other similar particles and to measure them quantitatively. Little is known of the relationship of chemical constitution of toxic substances to Heinz body formation. The indications are that some inorganic substances are capable of inducing this action as well as many aromatic nitro and amino compounds.
The presence in the blood stream of significant amounts of Heinz bodies is evidence of some injury to the erythrocytes. If this injury is severe it may lead to marked hemolysis and anemia.
Clinical cases of Heinz body occurrence in man, due either to drugs or to industrial poisoning, are cited and the need for further work and especially for Heinz body evaluation in routine hematologic examinations is pointed out. A bibliography is included in this review of the literature covering the chief contributions to work on Heinz bodies.