• microcirculation;
  • red cell velocity;
  • red cell deformability;
  • mean corpuscular volume

To investigate the behaviour of red cells in the microcirculation, we established a new capillary method using narrow fluorinated ethylenepropylene copolymer tubes with internal diameters of 12.5 and 25.0 μm. Red cell flow in the tubes under a given range of pressure was analysed through a video system connected to a microscope. The experimental condition was adjusted so that the velocity of the control normocytes would be compatible with that in corresponding vessels in vivo, 0.5–1.5 mm/s. In the 12.5 μm tube, normocytes obtained from 12 young normal volunteers ran in an axisymmetric edge-on orientation with a folded shape at higher pressures, but rolled along freely without deformation at lower pressures. Deformation during the passage of the microcytes obtained from four patients with polycythaemia vera complicated with iron-deficient microcytosis and 10 patients with iron deficiency anaemia was relatively mild, whereas that of the macrocytes obtained from eight patients with refractory anaemia was marked. Even after the screening effect at the tube entrance was taken into consideration, the velocities of both microcytes and macrocytes were found to be significantly lower than the control normocytes. Therefore this method may be a new way to investigate the flow properties of red cells in the microcirculation.