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Int J Mol Sci. 2013 May 8;14(5):9848-72. doi: 10.3390/ijms14059848.

Calcium in red blood cells-a perilous balance.

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Institute of Veterinary Physiology, Vetsuisse Faculty and the Zürich, Center for Integrative Human Physiology, University of Zürich, Zürich 8057, Switzerland.


Ca2+ is a universal signalling molecule involved in regulating cell cycle and fate, metabolism and structural integrity, motility and volume. Like other cells, red blood cells (RBCs) rely on Ca2+ dependent signalling during differentiation from precursor cells. Intracellular Ca2+ levels in the circulating human RBCs take part not only in controlling biophysical properties such as membrane composition, volume and rheological properties, but also physiological parameters such as metabolic activity, redox state and cell clearance. Extremely low basal permeability of the human RBC membrane to Ca2+ and a powerful Ca2+ pump maintains intracellular free Ca2+ levels between 30 and 60 nM, whereas blood plasma Ca2+ is approximately 1.8 mM. Thus, activation of Ca2+ uptake has an impressive impact on multiple processes in the cells rendering Ca2+ a master regulator in RBCs. Malfunction of Ca2+ transporters in human RBCs leads to excessive accumulation of Ca2+ within the cells. This is associated with a number of pathological states including sickle cell disease, thalassemia, phosphofructokinase deficiency and other forms of hereditary anaemia. Continuous progress in unravelling the molecular nature of Ca2+ transport pathways allows harnessing Ca2+ uptake, avoiding premature RBC clearance and thrombotic complications. This review summarizes our current knowledge of Ca2+ signalling in RBCs emphasizing the importance of this inorganic cation in RBC function and survival.

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