It is usually considered that red-cell mass is controlled by erythropoietin-driven bone marrow red-cell production, and no physiological mechanisms can shorten survival of circulating red cells. In adapting to acute plethora in microgravity, astronauts' red-cell mass falls too rapidly to be explained by diminished red-cell production. Ferrokinetics show no early decline in erythropoiesis, but red cells radiolabelled 12 days before launch survive normally. Selective destruction of the youngest circulating red cells - a process we call neocytolysis - is the only plausible explanation. A fall in erythropoietin below a threshold is likely to initiate neocytolysis, probably by influencing surface-adhesion molecules. Recognition of neocytolysis will require re-examination of the pathophysiology and treatment of several blood disorders, including the anaemia of renal disease.
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