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Biophys J. 2002 Nov;83(5):2482-90.

Depletion-mediated red blood cell aggregation in polymer solutions.

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  • 1Department of Physiology and Biophysics, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, 1333 San Pablo Street, MMR 626, Los Angeles, CA 90033, USA.


Polymer-induced red blood cell (RBC) aggregation is of current basic science and clinical interest, and a depletion-mediated model for this phenomenon has been suggested; to date, however, analytical approaches to this model are lacking. An approach is thus described for calculating the interaction energy between RBC in polymer solutions. The model combines electrostatic repulsion due to RBC surface charge with osmotic attractive forces due to polymer depletion near the RBC surface. The effects of polymer concentration and polymer physicochemical properties on depletion layer thickness and on polymer penetration into the RBC glycocalyx are considered for 40 to 500 kDa dextran and for 18 to 35 kDa poly (ethylene glycol). The calculated results are in excellent agreement with literature data for cell-cell affinities and with RBC aggregation-polymer concentration relations. These findings thus lend strong support to depletion interactions as the basis for polymer-induced RBC aggregation and suggest the usefulness of this approach for exploring interactions between macromolecules and the RBC glycocalyx.

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