Cellular dynamics of mammalian red blood cell production in the erythroblastic island niche

Jia Hao Yeo, Yun Wah Lam, Stuart T. Fraser

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


Red blood cells, or erythrocytes, make up approximately a quarter of all cells in the human body with over 2 billion new erythrocytes made each day in a healthy adult human. This massive cellular production system is coupled with a set of cell biological processes unique to mammals, in particular, the elimination of all organelles, and the expulsion and destruction of the condensed erythroid nucleus. Erythrocytes from birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish possess nuclei, mitochondria and other organelles: erythrocytes from mammals lack all of these intracellular components. This review will focus on the dynamic changes that take place in developing erythroid cells that are interacting with specialized macrophages in multicellular clusters termed erythroblastic islands. Proerythroblasts enter the erythroblastic niche as large cells with active nuclei, mitochondria producing heme and energy, and attach to the central macrophage via a range of adhesion molecules. Proerythroblasts then mature into erythroblasts and, following enucleation, in reticulocytes. When reticulocytes exit the erythroblastic island, they are smaller cells, without nuclei and with few mitochondria, possess some polyribosomes and have a profoundly different surface molecule phenotype. Here, we will review, step-by-step, the biophysical mechanisms that regulate the remarkable process of erythropoiesis with a particular focus on the events taking place in the erythroblastic island niche. This is presented from the biological perspective to offer insight into the elements of red blood cell development in the erythroblastic island niche which could be further explored with biophysical modelling systems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)873-894
Number of pages22
JournalBiophysical Reviews
Issue number6
Early online date15 Aug 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2019
Externally publishedYes

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