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Physiol Rev. 2005 Jan;85(1):179-200.

Ion transport pathology in the mechanism of sickle cell dehydration.

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Physiological Laboratory, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom.


Polymers of deoxyhemoglobin S deform sickle cell anemia red blood cells into sickle shapes, leading to the formation of dense, dehydrated red blood cells with a markedly shortened life-span. Nearly four decades of intense research in many laboratories has led to a mechanistic understanding of the complex events leading from sickling-induced permeabilization of the red cell membrane to small cations, to the generation of the heterogeneity of age and hydration condition of circulating sickle cells. This review follows chronologically the major experimental findings and the evolution of guiding ideas for research in this field. Predictions derived from mathematical models of red cell and reticulocyte homeostasis led to the formulation of an alternative to prevailing gradualist views: a multitrack dehydration model based on interactive influences between the red cell anion exchanger and two K(+) transporters, the Gardos channel (hSK4, hIK1) and the K-Cl cotransporter (KCC), with differential effects dependent on red cell age and variability of KCC expression among reticulocytes. The experimental tests of the model predictions and the amply supportive results are discussed. The review concludes with a brief survey of the therapeutic strategies aimed at preventing sickle cell dehydration and with an analysis of the main open questions in the field.

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