CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (August 28, 2012) The adult human circulatory system contains between 20 and 30 trillion red blood cells (RBCs), the precise size and number of which can vary from person to person. Some people may have fewer, but larger RBCs, while others may have a larger number of smaller RBCs. Although these differences in size and number may seem inconsequential, they raise an important question: Just what controls these characteristics of RBCs?
This question is particularly relevant for the roughly one-quarter of the population that suffers from anemia, which is often caused by flawed RBC production. A better understanding of how RBC production is controlled may offer greater insight into the development and potential treatment of anemia.
By analyzing the results of genome-wide association studies (GWAS) in conjunction with experiments on mouse and human red blood cells, researchers in the lab of Whitehead Institute Founding Member Harvey Lodish have identified the protein cyclin D3 as regulating the number of cell divisions RBC progenitors undergo, which ultimately affects the resulting size and quantity of RBCs. Their findings are reported in the September 14 issue of Genes and Development.
"This is one of the rare cases where we can explain a normal human-to-human variation," says Lodish, who is also a professor of biology and bioengineering at MIT. "In a sense, it's a window on human evolution. Why this should have happened, we have no idea, but it does."
Lodish likens cyclin D3's role in RBCs to that of a clock. In some people, the clock triggers RBC progenitors to mature after four rounds of cell division, resulting in fewer but larger RBCs. In others it goes off after five cell division cycles, which leads to production of a greater number of smaller RBCs. In both cases, the blood usually has the same ability to carry oxygen to distant tissues.
The initial hint of cyclin D3's importance came fr
|Contact: Nicole Rura|
Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research