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Rev Clin Exp Hematol. 2003 Mar;7(1):22-56.

Red blood cell membrane defects.

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  • 1Institute for Pediatrics, University of Foggia, Viale Pinto, 71100 Foggia, Italy.


We present an overview of the currently known molecular basis of red cell membrane disorders. A detailed discussion of the structure of the red cell membrane and the pathophysiology and clinical aspects of its disorders is reported. Generally speaking, hereditary spherocytosis (HS) results from a loss of erythrocyte surface area. The mutations of most cases of HS are located in the following genes: ANK1, SPTB, SLC4A1, EPB42 and SPTA1, which encode for ankyrin, spectrin beta-chain, the anion exchanger 1 (band 3), protein 4.2 and spectrin alpha-chain, respectively. Hereditary elliptocytosis (HE) reflects a diminished elasticity of the skeleton. Its aggravated form, hereditary pyropoikilocytosis (HPP), implies that the skeleton undergoes further destabilization. The mutations responsible for HE and HPP, lie in the SPTA1 and SPTB gene, and in the EPB41 gene encoding protein 4.1. Allele alpha LELY is a common polymorphic allele, which plays the role of an aggravating factor when it occurs in trans of an elliptocytogenic allele of the SPTA1 gene. Southeast Asian ovalocytosis derives from a change in band 3. The genetic disorders of membrane permeability to monovalent cations required a positional cloning approach. In this respect, channelopathies represent a new frontier in the field. Dehydrated hereditary stomatocytosis (DHS) was shown to belong to a pleiotropic syndrome: DHS + fetal edema + pseudohyperkalemia, which maps 16q23-24. Splenectomy is strictly contraindicated in DHS and another disease of the same class, overhydrated hereditary stomatocytosis, because it increases the risk of thromboembolic accidents.

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