Milzfunktion und Erythrocytenabbau

  • W. Pribilla

Splenic Function and Break-Down of Erythrocytes


From the middle of the last century the spleen was considered as the effective organ in erythrocyte destruction. The spleen may indeed under pathological circumstances sequestrate and destroy great amounts of erythrocytes. But this does not necessarily mean that this will happen under normal conditions too. In fact, the spleen of normal persons appears to take only a minimum part in erythrocyte destruction. This article deals with the normally existing relations between spleen and erythrocyte destruction. The fate of the aged erythrocytes will be presented first, then the relation of the spleen to these processes will be discussed.

It is quite reasonable to assume that erythrocytes are subject to ageing and have a rather constant life span. Old erythrocytes differ from young ones in numerous physical, biochemical and structural features. It is not yet possible to decide whether the process of ageing starts primarily with a change of the structure or metabolism of the erythrocytes. From the calculation of the erythrocyte turnover and of the behavior of the bilirubin, it must be concluded that the erythrocytes do not die from intravascular lysis, but finally become subject to intracellular destruction. It is not known how the phagocytic cells recognize aged erythrocytes. Experimental assays demonstrate that the intracellular destruction of erythrocytes as well as of erythrocyte particles takes only a short time.

It seems likely that the spleen plays a part in the destruction of aged erythrocytes. This organ is especially well equipped for phagocytosis. A sequestration of erythrocytes in a normal spleen can also be provoked in normal persons by chemical or other alterations of the red blood cells. A close relation between spleen and erythrocytes is also suggested by the erythrocyte changes which regularly occur after splenectomy in otherwise normal persons. The spleen indeed appears to be a control which guards the quality of the erythrocytes. Nevertheless, the life span of erythrocytes will not be prolonged in normal persons after splenectomy, and the erythrocyte count does not rise after that operation. It must be concluded that normally the spleen is of only minor importance for the destruction of old erythrocytes and that its part in the elimination of these cells can be taken over rapidly and completely by other organs of the body. This concept is supported by numerous experiments with healthy animals, as well as by the observation that the erythrocytic enzyme pattern does not differ in cells from the splenic artery and vein.


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin · Heidelberg 1970

Authors and Affiliations

  • W. Pribilla
    • 1
  1. 1.II. Med. AbteilungStädt KrankenhausesBerlin-MoabitDeutschland

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