About this Research Topic
The ontogenic development of the mammalian red blood cell (RBC) appears to be teleologically aimed at attaining an optimal morphology, the biconcave disk, to warrant elastic deformability to a cell that will face tremendous mechanical stress when traveling around the entire circulatory system for approximately 170000 times (in humans) during its entire life-time. Paramount for ensuring mechanical stability to the plasma membrane is the membrane skeleton, a protein lattice that has evolved as a robust, yet flexible, scaffold to support an otherwise fragile lipid bilayer.
Historically, RBCs have been the model of choice on which to develop new technologies and to explore their possibilities. This is still true today, when various "omics", from proteomics to metabolomics or exposomics, are applied to RBC research and reveal new and sometimes unexpected properties of this cell type. It could be said that the main function of the RBC is based on its content, a 5 mM solution of haemoglobin which must sustain repeated cycles of oxygenation and deoxygenation while remaining in its reduced, fully native, conformation. But, the ability of this content to carry out its task lies in the properties of the "container" – the RBC membrane.
The focus of this Research Topic is the continuous evolution and maturation of the RBC membrane from the erythroid precursors all the way to the senescent RBC. Much is known about the composition of the mature circulating RBC membrane, and also, from more recent investigations, on the maturation of the membrane during RBC production (erythropoiesis). Yet, the mechanisms by which these maturational events occur in the bone marrow and then, later, in the circulation are still not fully understood. For instance, the processes by which RBCs lose membrane surface area and reduce their size while remaining biconcave in shape throughout their circulatory life are not known. It is not clear to what extent they are deterministic or depend on the environment, involving other organs such as the endothelium, liver and spleen.
Many questions about the anatomy of the membrane-skeleton and its remodeling during RBC development and aging are still unanswered. The factors that determine clearance of senescent RBCs normal physiology or abnormal pathology are also still not completely understood. They certainly involve modifications at the level of the membrane. In addition, understanding of the RBC membrane structure and function is essential for producing RBCs in vitro for transfusion purposes. These "artificial" RBCs should have a perfectly functional biconcave disk shape that will enable them to survive and function in vivo like their naturally-developed counterparts.
Keywords: Erythropoiesis, red blood cell membrane, reticulocyte, membrane vesiculation, membranopathies
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