Spherocytosis pathophysiology

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]



Hereditary spherocytosis is an autosomal dominant trait, most commonly (though not exclusively) found in Northern European and Japanese families, although an estimated 25% of cases are due to spontaneous mutations. A patient has a 50% chance of passing the disorder onto his/her offspring, presuming that his/her partner does not also carry the mutation.

Hereditary spherocytosis is caused by a variety of molecular defects in the genes that code for spectrin, ankyrin, protein 4.1, and other erythrocyte membrane proteins. These proteins are necessary to maintain the normal shape of an erythrocyte, which is a biconcave disk. The protein that is most commonly defective is ankyrin. As the spleen normally targets abnormally shaped red cells (which are typically older), it also destroys spherocytes. Because the cell skeleton has a defect, the blood cell contracts to its most surface-tension efficient and least flexible configuration, a sphere, rather than the more flexible donut-shape. The sphere-shaped red blood cells are known as spherocytes.

Though the spherocytes have a smaller surface area through which oxygen and carbon dioxide can be exchanged, they in themselves perform adequately to maintain healthy oxygen supplies. However, they have a high osmotic fragility--when placed into water, they are more likely to burst than normal red blood cells. These cells are more prone to physical degradation. They are most commonly found in immunologically-mediated hemolytic anemias and in hereditary spherocytosis, but the former would have a positive direct Coombs test and the latter would not. The misshapen but otherwise healthy red blood cells are mistaken by the spleen for old or damaged red blood cells and it thus constantly breaks them down, causing a cycle whereby the body destroys its own blood supply (auto-hemolysis).

Mircoscopic Pathology



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