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IUBMB Life. 2008 Oct;60(10):661-8. doi: 10.1002/iub.106.

Erythrocyte programmed cell death.

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Department of Physiology, University of Tübingen, Germany.


Eryptosis, the suicidal death of erythrocytes, is characterised by cell shrinkage, membrane blebbing and cell membrane phospholipid scrambling with phosphatidylserine exposure at the cell surface. Phosphatidylserine-exposing erythrocytes are recognised by macrophages, which engulf and degrade the affected cells. Reported triggers of eryptosis include osmotic shock, oxidative stress, energy depletion, ceramide, prostaglandin E(2), platelet activating factor, hemolysin, listeriolysin, paclitaxel, chlorpromazine, cyclosporine, methylglyoxal, amyloid peptides, anandamide, Bay-5884, curcumin, valinomycin, aluminium, mercury, lead and copper. Diseases associated with accelerated eryptosis include sepsis, malaria, sickle-cell anemia, beta-thalassemia, glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD)-deficiency, phosphate depletion, iron deficiency, hemolytic uremic syndrome and Wilsons disease. Eryptosis may be inhibited by erythropoietin, adenosine, catecholamines, nitric oxide (NO) and activation of G-kinase. Most triggers of eryptosis except oxidative stress are effective without activation of caspases. Their signalling involves formation of prostaglandin E(2) with subsequent activation of cation channels and Ca2+ entry and/or release of platelet activating factor (PAF) with subsequent activation of sphingomyelinase and formation of ceramide. Ca2+ and ceramide stimulate scrambling of the cell membrane. Ca2+ further activates Ca2+-sensitive K+ channels leading to cellular KCl loss and cell shrinkage and stimulates the protease calpain resulting in degradation of the cytoskeleton. Eryptosis allows defective erythrocytes to escape hemolysis. On the other hand, excessive eryptosis favours the development of anemia. Thus, a delicate balance between proeryptotic and antieryptotic mechanisms is required to maintain an adequate number of circulating erythrocytes and yet avoid noneryptotic death of injured erythrocytes.

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