• sickle cell disease;
  • spleen function


Sickle cell patients develop splenic dysfunction early in the course of their disease as shown by failure to visualize the organ on technetium-99m colloid scintigraphy. However, preliminary studies from our center have shown that, when the spleen is not demonstrable on colloid uptake, it may be visualized on technetium-99m heat-denatured RBC scintigraphy. With time, however, the spleen can no longer be visualized with both tests in many patients. We have studied 46 patients aged 2 to 16 years, which included 36 SS, 7 Sβ0 thal, and 3 SD. Eighteen (39.1%) had normal splenic colloid uptake (Group 1), 15 (32.6%) had partial uptake (Group 2), and 13 (28.3%) had absent uptake (Group 3). When the patients in Group 1 were compared to those in the two other groups, there was no significant difference in the mean age and Hb F values. However, the mean Hb of 10.2 g/dl in Group 1 was significantly higher than the value of 9.0 g/dl in the other two groups. In addition, 60% of the SS patients with normal uptake and 40% of those with partial or absent uptake had co-existing α-thal trait; the difference in this proportion is significant (χ2 = 85, P < 0.0001). Heat-denatured RBC scintigraphy was carried out on five patients in Group 2, and the spleen was visible in all, while of 12 children in Group 3, the spleen was visible only in 4 patients. This study demonstrates that the phagocytic function of the spleen, which is tested by colloid uptake, is the first to be lost while the filtration function, tested by denatured RBC uptake, persists for much longer. This finding may have significant implications for the clinical symptomatology and therapeutic strategies of sickle cell disease. Am. J. Hematol. 69:23-27, 2002. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.