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Neutron Research: Shape of Red Blood Cells Influences Oxygen Transport

Jülich, 29 Oktober 2020 - Red blood cells in the blood of higher vertebrates are used to transport oxygen via the cardiovascular system. For this purpose, blood cells are tightly packed with the protein haemoglobin, which reversibly binds and releases oxygen. An international research team led by Jülich physicist Dr. Andreas M. Stadler has now discovered with the aid of neutron scattering experiments that the molecular properties of the proteins, such as their mobility in cells, important for efficient oxygen exchange, depends on the shape of the blood cells.

The shape of red blood cells is mainly determined by the properties of the cell membrane and the cytoskeleton bound to it, and usually resembles a discus. This shape probably offers the best compromise between a large surface area, which enables good oxygen exchange, and a high level of flexibility, which allows the blood cells to fit through even the narrowest of blood vessels. However, other forms do occur, for example through disease or genetic changes. For this study, the researchers specifically changed the shape and size of the blood cells from human and horse blood and used neutron scattering experiments to investigate how the shape influences interactions and movements of the haemoglobin proteins in the cells. Neutron scattering experiments can detect this on a molecular scale averaged over a large number of cells without destroying them.

Neutronenstreuexperimente zeigen den Einfluss der Form roter Blutkörperchen auf molekulare Eigenschaften des Sauerstoff-Transportproteins Hämoglobin.Neutron scattering experiments show the influence of the shape of red blood cells on the molecular properties of the oxygen transport protein haemoglobin.
Copyright: Forschungszentrum Jülich

Original publication: Keyun Shou et al.;
Effect of Red Blood Cell Shape Changes on Haemoglobin Interactions and Dynamics: A Neutron Scattering Study;
Royal Society Open Science, Volume 7, Issue 10, 14 October 2020, DOI: 10.1098/rsos.201507

Further Information:

Website Jülich Centre for Neutron Science - Neutron Scattering and Biological Material (JCNS-1/IBI-8)


Dr. Andreas Stadler
Jülich Centre for Neutron Science – Neutron Scattering and Biological Matter (JCNS-1/IBI-8)
Tel: +49 2461/61-4502

Press contact:

Angela Wenzik, Science journalist
Forschungszentrum Jülich
Tel: +49 2461 61-6048