The dynamic behavior of chemically "stiffened" red blood cells in microchannel flows

Alison M. Forsyth, Jiandi Wan, William D. Ristenpart, Howard A. Stone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

132 Scopus citations


The rigidity of red blood cells (RBCs) plays an important role in whole blood viscosity and is correlated with several cardiovascular diseases. Two chemical agents that are commonly used to study cell deformation are diamide and glutaraldehyde. Despite diamide's common usage, there are discrepancies in the literature surrounding diamide's effect on the deformation of RBCs in shear and pressure-driven flows; in particular, shear flow experiments have shown that diamide stiffens cells, while pressure-driven flow in capillaries did not give this result. We performed pressure-driven flow experiments with RBCs in a microfluidic constriction and quantified the cell dynamics using high-speed imaging. Diamide, which affects RBCs by cross-linking spectrin skeletal membrane proteins, did not reduce deformation and showed an unchanged effective strain rate when compared to healthy cells. In contrast, glutaraldehyde, which is a non-specific fixative that acts on all components of the cell, did reduce deformation and showed increased instances of tumbling, both of which are characteristic features of stiffened, or rigidified, cells. Because glutaraldehyde increases the effective viscosity of the cytoplasm and lipid membrane while diamide does not, one possible explanation for our results is that viscous effects in the cytoplasm and/or lipid membrane are a dominant factor in dictating dynamic responses of RBCs in pressure-driven flows. Finally, literature on the use of diamide as a stiffening agent is summarized, and provides supporting evidence for our conclusions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)37-43
Number of pages7
JournalMicrovascular Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology


  • Cytoplasm
  • Deformation
  • Diamide
  • Erythrocyte
  • Microfluidics
  • RBC
  • Tumbling


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