Knowledge concerning SS (homozygous for the beta s gene) red blood cell (RBC) heterogeneity has been useful for understanding the pathophysiology of sickle cell anemia. No equivalent information exists for RBCs of the compound heterozygote for the beta s and beta c genes (SC) RBCs. These RBCs are known to be denser than most cells in normal blood and even most cells in SS blood (Fabry et al, J Clin Invest 70:1284, 1981). We have analyzed the characteristics of SC RBC heterogeneity and find that: (1) SC cells exhibit unusual morphologic features, particularly the tendency for membrane “folding” (multifolded, unifolded, and triangular shapes are all common); (2) SC RBCs containing crystals and some containing round hemoglobin (Hb) aggregates (billiard-ball cells) are detectable in circulating SC blood; (3) in contrast to normal reticulocytes, which are found mainly in a low-density RBC fraction, SC reticulocytes are found in the densest SC RBC fraction; and (4) both deoxygenation and replacement of extracellular Cl- by NO3- (both inhibitors of K:Cl cotransport) led to moderate depopulation of the dense fraction and a dramatic shift of the reticulocytes to lower density fractions. We conclude that the RBC heterogeneity of SC disease is very different from that of SS disease. The major contributions of properties introduced by HbC are “folded” RBCs, intracellular crystal formation in circulating SC cells, and apparently a very active K:Cl cotransporter that leads to unusually dense reticulocytes.

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