Issue 18, 2021

In vitro assay for single-cell characterization of impaired deformability in red blood cells under recurrent episodes of hypoxia

Abstract

Red blood cells (RBCs) are subjected to recurrent changes in shear stress and oxygen tension during blood circulation. The cyclic shear stress has been identified as an important factor that alone can weaken cell mechanical deformability. The effects of cyclic hypoxia on cellular biomechanics have yet to be fully investigated. As the oxygen affinity of hemoglobin plays a key role in the biological function and mechanical performance of RBCs, the repeated transitions of hemoglobin between its R (high oxygen tension) and T (low oxygen tension) states may impact their mechanical behavior. The present study focuses on developing a novel microfluidic-based assay for characterization of the effects of cyclic hypoxia on cell biomechanics. The capability of this assay is demonstrated by a longitudinal study of individual RBCs in health and sickle cell disease subjected to cyclic hypoxia conditions of various durations and levels of low oxygen tension. The viscoelastic properties of cell membranes are extracted from tensile stretching and relaxation processes of RBCs induced by the electrodeformation technique. Results demonstrate that cyclic hypoxia alone can significantly reduce cell deformability, similar to the fatigue damage accumulated through cyclic mechanical loading. RBCs affected by sickle cell disease are less deformable (significantly higher membrane shear modulus and viscosity) than normal RBCs. The fatigue resistance of sickle RBCs to the cyclic hypoxia challenge is significantly inferior to that of normal RBCs, and this trend is more significant in mature erythrocytes of sickle cells. When the oxygen affinity of sickle hemoglobin is enhanced by anti-sickling drug treatment of 5-hydroxymethyl-2-furfural (5-HMF), sickle RBCs show ameliorated resistance to fatigue damage induced by cyclic hypoxia. These results indicate an important biophysical mechanism underlying RBC senescence in which the cyclic hypoxia challenge alone can lead to mechanical degradation of the RBC membrane. We envision that the application of this assay can be further extended to RBCs in other blood diseases and other cell types.

Graphical abstract: In vitro assay for single-cell characterization of impaired deformability in red blood cells under recurrent episodes of hypoxia

Supplementary files

Article information

Article type
Paper
Submitted
08 Jul 2021
Accepted
29 Jul 2021
First published
02 Aug 2021

Lab Chip, 2021,21, 3458-3470

In vitro assay for single-cell characterization of impaired deformability in red blood cells under recurrent episodes of hypoxia

Y. Qiang, J. Liu, M. Dao and E. Du, Lab Chip, 2021, 21, 3458 DOI: 10.1039/D1LC00598G

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