Amid growing indications that the traditional image of red blood cells (RBCs) falls short of reality, chemists are reporting evidence that RBCs are key participants in a communication system among cells in the bloodstream.
Messaging between RBCs and platelets (blood components that cause clotting) they say, could explain the effects of a drug suggested for use in preventing heart attacks and other complications of diabetes.
In a study scheduled for the July 13 issue of ACS’ Analytical Chemistry, a semi-monthly journal, Dana Spence and colleagues note that RBCs once were regarded mainly as oxygen carriers. Recent research, however, shows that red cells also release ATP, a molecule that is the source of energy for all life processes, as they deform while they travel through small blood vessels.
By observing blood flow through artificial blood vessels in laboratory experiments, Spence’s group now has established that the ATP signals blood platelets to produce nitric oxide (NO). That messenger molecule has a variety of functions, including dilating blood vessels. When released from platelets, NO helps regulate platelets’ activity, preventing excessive clotting. Disruption of the RBC-platelet communications system may play a role in diabetic complications such as heart disease and strokes, the researchers said.
The new study also found that Trental, reported to have beneficial effects in preventing certain diabetic complications, may work by boosting ATP release from red blood cells.
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