This study was undertaken to determine whether diabetes alters the viscoelastic properties of erythrocytes. The oldest and youngest 10% fractions of circulating red cells were separated by centrifugation of freshly drawn blood obtained from ten diabetics with disease of one to 20 years' duration and from an equal number of age- and sex-matched control subjects. Cells from each fraction were suspended in phosphate- buffered saline, and their rheologic behavior was examined in a rheoscope. The elongation of cells, the percentage of cells that tank- treaded in response to shear stress, tank-treading frequency, and the rate of recovery of cell shape upon cessation of shear stress were determined in the oldest and youngest 10% of cells for diabetics as well as for controls. All four parameters were virtually identical for diabetics and controls. Additional aliquots of cells were taken for assessment of nonenzymatic glucosylation of hemoglobin and cell membrane protein. The absence of any measurable difference in rheologic behavior of cells from diabetic and control subjects, despite substantial differences in nonenzymatic glucosylation of hemoglobin and cell membrane proteins, suggests that the magnitude of glucosylation observed in these cellular constituents does not alter the viscoelastic properties of the cells. The implication of these observations is that microvascular complications of diabetes are not attributable to altered deformability of red cells.

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