On the Mechanism of Human Red Blood Cell Longevity: Roles of Calcium, the Sodium Pump, PIEZO1, and Gardos Channels

23 Feb 2018

In a healthy adult, the transport of O2 and CO2 between lungs and tissues is performed by about 2 · 1013 red blood cells, of which around 1.7 · 1011 are renewed every day, a turnover resulting from an average circulatory lifespan of about 120 days. Cellular lifespan is the result of an evolutionary balance between the energy costs of maintaining cells in a fit functional state versus cell renewal. In this Review we examine how the set of passive and active membrane transporters of the mature red blood cells interact to maximize their circulatory longevity thus minimizing costs on expensive cell turnover. Red blood cell deformability is critical for optimal rheology and gas exchange functionality during capillary flow, best fulfilled when the volume of each human red blood cell is kept at a fraction of about 0.55–0.60 of the maximal spherical volume allowed by its membrane area, the optimal-volume-ratio range. The extent to which red blood cell volumes can be preserved within or near these narrow optimal-volume-ratio margins determines the potential for circulatory longevity. We show that the low cation permeability of red blood cells allows volume stability to be achieved with extraordinary cost-efficiency, favouring cell longevity over cell turnover. We suggest a mechanism by which the interplay of a declining sodium pump and two passive membrane transporters, the mechanosensitive PIEZO1 channel, a candidate mediator of Psickle in sickle cells, and the Ca2+-sensitive, K+-selective Gardos channel, can implement red blood cell volume stability around the optimal-volume-ratio range, as required for extended circulatory longevity.