Red cell membrane

Several functions of the red cells are closely related to different structures of the cell membrane. These structures are involved in most of the metabolic, antigenic, transporting and receptorial activities of the erythrocytes.

Biochemical aspects

The red cell membrane is constituted by a lipid bilayer and by a submembraneous network of polypeptides (membrane skeleton) which confers upon the red cells the capacity to maintain its characteristic biconcave shape and the flexibility to change shape during passage through the circulation without apparent damage.

Lipids represent 50% of the membrane weight (Table 1). They are asymmetrically distributed across the bilayer plane as well as within each bilayer. This asymmetry is due to the action of an aminophospho-lipid translocase or 'flippase', possibly related to the

Table 1 Lipid composition of normal human red cell membrane

Weight (%) Approx. no molecules/ghost (million)

Outer half of bilayer (%)

Inner half of bilayer (%)

Phospholipids Cholesterol Glycolipids Free fatty acids

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