• red blood cell volume;
  • red blood cell surface area;
  • mean cell volume;
  • red blood cell distribution width;
  • microcapillary flow;
  • image analysis


The red blood cells (RBCs) population is characterized by a high heterogeneity in membrane area, cellular volume, and mechanical properties, mainly due to the variety of mechanical and chemical stresses that a red cell undergoes in its entire life span. Here, we provide the first simultaneous area and volume measurements of RBCs flowing in microcapillaries, by using high-speed video microscopy imaging and quantitative data processing based on image analysis techniques. Both confined and unbounded flow conditions (depending on the relative size of RBCs and microcapillary diameter) are investigated. The results are compared with micropipette experiments from the literature and data from Coulter counter routine clinical blood tests. Good agreement is found for RBC volume, especially in the case of confined flow conditions. Surface area measurements, which are lacking in the routine clinical test, are of special interest being a potential diagnostic parameter of altered cell deformability and aggregability. Overall, our results provide a novel flow methodology suitable for high-throughput measurements of RBC geometrical parameters, allowing one to overcome the limits of classical static methods, such as micropipette aspiration, which are not suitable for handling a large number of cells. © 2012 International Society for Advancement of Cytometry