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Abstract

To assess the role of intracellular hemoglobin concentration in the deformability of sickle (HbSS) cells after deoxygenation, rheologic coefficients (static rigidity E and dynamic rigidity eta) of density-fractionated individual sickle erythrocytes (SS cells) were determined as a function of oxygen tension (pO2) using the micropipette technique in a newly developed experimental chamber. With stepwise deoxygenation, E and eta values showed no significant increase before morphologic sickling but rose sharply after sickling. In denser cells, continued deoxygenation led to steep rises of E and eta toward infinity, as the cell behaved as a solid. The pO2 levels at which rheologic and morphologic changes occurred for individual SS cells during deoxygenation varied directly with the cell density. The extent of recovery in E and eta during reoxygenation varied inversely with the cell density. These results provide direct evidence that the intracellular sickle hemoglobin (HbS) concentration of SS cells plays an important role in their rheologic heterogeneity in deoxygenation and reoxygenation. The elevations of eta during pO2 alteration were greater than those of E, especially for the denser cells, suggesting the importance of the elevated dynamic rigidity in initiating microcirculatory disturbances in sickle cell disease.