Reticulocytes in fixed human blood samples were stained for RNA with the fluorescent dye pyronin Y and measured by flow cytometry. The resulting relative frequency distributions of the RNA fluorescence intensities concurred with the different stages in maturation from early reticulocytes to mature red cells. A computer program was written to calculate from these frequency distributions the relative number of reticulocytes, their relative RNA content, and the median of the reticulocyte population (RNA index). This method was applied to 30 healthy blood bank donors (control group), as well as to patients with various hematologic disorders showing abnormal erythropoietic activity. The measured percentage of reticulocytes, RNA content, and RNA index were found to correlate well with the various hematologic disorders. Changes in erythropoiesis could be clearly followed, as was demonstrated by analyzing blood samples from children with aplastic anemia or acute myeloid leukemia, who were treated with allogeneic bone marrow transplantation. Measurements on blood samples from healthy blood bank donors showed that with this method, small changes in the reticulocyte population, such as the appearance of polychromatic erythrocytes in the peripheral blood 5–8 hr after donation, can be detected. The statistical reliability and the information provided on the maturation stage of the entire reticulocyte population make flow cytometry of peripheral blood reticulocytes a more informative method for the study of hematologic abnormalities than conventional methods for reticulocyte counting and classification.

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