The changes in red blood cells (RBC) as they age and the mechanisms for their eventual removal have been of interest for many years. Proposed age-related changes include dehydration with increased density and decreased size, increased membrane IgG, loss of membrane phospholipid asymmetry, and decreased activity of KCl cotransport. The biotin RBC label allows unambiguous identification of older cells and exploration of their properties as they age. Autologous normal human RBC were labeled ex vivo and, after reinfusion, compared with unlabeled RBC throughout their lifespan. RBC density increased with age, with most of the change in the first weeks. Near the end of their lifespan, RBC had increased surface IgG. However, there was no evidence for elevated external phosphatidylserine (PS) even though older RBC had significantly lower activity of aminophospholipid translocase (APLT). KCl cotransport activity persisted well past the reticulocyte stage, but eventually decreased as the RBC became older. These studies place limitations on the use of density fractionation for the study of older human RBC, and do not support loss of phospholipid asymmetry as a mechanism for human RBC senescence. However, increased levels of IgG were associated with older RBC, and may contribute to their removal from the circulation.
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