An erythrocyte, commonly known as a red blood cell, is the
most numerous type of blood cell. Erythrocytes taken the form of biconcave
disks, narrow-waisted in profile. They contain the red respiratory pigment hemoglobin and are responsible for oxygen transport. The splitting of hemoglobin into a huge number of such little
packets, each with a large surface area in comparison to its volume, vastly
increases the surface area for oxygen exchange; the total area of the red
cells is 1,000–2,000 times that of the body. In health a red cell
of normal shape and size is said to be normocytic, and,
if it has a normal complement of hemoglobin, normochromic.
|A false-color scanning, electron micrograph (SEM) or red blood cells (erythrocytes) shown magnified 1.090 times. The take the form of biconcave disks, and are packed with hemoglobin (the iron-containing respiratory pigment). Their main function is the transport of oxygen and carbon dioxide around the body. The biconcave shape is an adaptation for maximum surface area, over which the exchange of gases may take place. Erythrocytes are also very flexible, and are able to squeeze into the smallest capillary. The shape of erythrocytes is dependent on the osmotic pressure of the plasma; in hypertonic plasma (higher concentration than normal) they become crenated (star-shaped – one is visible here at the center.
Erythrocytes are sensitive to the osmotic pressure of the blood plasma.
An increase in osmotic pressure shrivels them by withdrawing water, while
they swell up and burst in a weaker solution, their pigment is released,
and the blood is said to be hemolyzed.
Before birth, red blood cells are formed in the bone
marrow, liver, spleen,
and lymph glands. After birth, the marrow is their only source; in early
life the bones are full of red marrow, but
later this retreats to the bone ends, leaving the shaft occupied by yellow
fatty marrow. In humans, the number of erythrocytes in the blood varies
between 4.5 and 5.5 million per cubic millimeter. They survive for about
120 days and are then destroyed in the spleen and liver.