Density distributions were determined for sickle cell erythrocytes from 27 patients with HbSS genotype using the phthalate ester microcapillary differential flotation method of Danon and Marikovsky. Mean density distribution curves showed HbSS erythrocytes to have trimodal populations with significant increases in both dense and light cell fractions when compared to 20 normal controls of HbAA genotype (p < 0.05). Irreversibly sickled cell (ISC) and reticulocyte counts were compared with density distributions. Integrated unit areas under the dense cell population curves correlated with ISC percentages, while corresponding unit areas for light populations correlated to a lesser extent with reticulocyte percentages. Mean cell density, D50, varied widely among patients and correlated poorly with the ISC or reticulocyte percentage; however, D50 did correlate with the net change in integrated unit areas. Several patients had repeated density distributions over a 2-year time period. All HbSS patients showed increased but variable dense cell fractions which could not be definitively correlated with the clinical state of the patient. Transfusion reproducibly resulted in a lowering of the dense cell fraction. Erythrocytes from the HbSC patients showed a uniform increase in density and absence of the large dense cell fraction seen in most HbSS patients. This method provides a simple means for quantitation of the light and dense cell fraction in blood of patients with sickling disorders and displays the profile of erythrocyte density heterogeneity for the individual sickle cell patient.

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