We evaluated the quantitative value of a simple model of erythropoiesis, based on the basic assumptions that the red blood cell (RBC) mass determines erythropoietin (Epo) production, which in turn stimulates erythropoietic activity. The RBC mass was quantitated by direct isotopic measurement (RCM), Epo production by serum Epo levels, and erythropoiesis by the ferrokinetic measurement of the erythron transferrin uptake (ETU), the serum transferrin receptor (TfR) level, and the reticulocyte (retic) index, and was completed by an evaluation of overall marrow erythron cellularity. We studied a total of 195 subjects, including 31 normal individuals, 38 patients with polycythemia, and 126 patients with various forms of anemia. Instead of only quantitating Epo and erythropoiesis in absolute terms, we also evaluated them in relation to the degree of anemia or polycythemia, and expressed the results as a ratio of observed values to values predicted from the regression equations between hematocrit (Hct) on the one hand, and Epo, TfR, and ETU on the other, obtained in a carefully selected subpopulation. The slope of the regression of TfR (as well as ETU) versus Hct was very similar to the slope of the regression of Epo versus Hct. Average EPO and TfR (as well as ETU) values predicted from the regression equations were quite comparable to observed values in most groups of subjects, with exceptions predictable from knowledge of the pathophysiology of these hematologic disorders. We identified four major patterns of erythropoiesis, ie, normal, hyperdestruction (with variants of hemolysis or ineffective erythropoiesis), intrinsic marrow hypoproliferation, and defective Epo production. Dissecting out groups of patients showed much greater heterogeneity than when patients were analyzed by group. This was particularly true in the case of a hypoproliferative component being combined with hyperdestruction, giving what we called a “mixed disorder of erythropoiesis.” We conclude that the pathophysiology of anemia can be assessed by a simple measurement of Hct, retic index, Epo, and TfR levels, with Epo and TfR being more informative when expressed in relation to the degree of anemia. The model is particularly useful for detecting the presence of multiple mechanisms of anemia in the same patient. However, it has limitations inherent to the relative invalidity of TfR in iron deficiency, the imprecision of a retic count, and the difficulty in distinguishing hemolysis from ineffective erythropoiesis in some patients and in recognizing a component of hyperdestruction in hypoproliferative anemia.

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