New Roles for Red Blood Cells

A new role has been discovered for RBC (red blood cells) where they store and transport amino acids throughout the body. The results of this study will open up new areas of research into health, fitness and performance training.

In a landmark paper published on the 23rd April, Hugh Dunstan and his team provide evidence for how this works.

Most of us know that the RBC transport oxygen and remove the carbon dioxide waste. It has also been known for a long time that the RBC carry large quantities of amino acids in the blood:

  • The levels of amino acids in the RBC pumped out of the heart via the arteries are higher than in those in RBC returning to the heart via the veins.

However, their role as a transporter has been previously dismissed because it was thought that such a role would involve the complete delivery of amino acids to the target tissues, muscles and organs.

  • This would be like a supermarket delivery truck off-loading all the produce at the supermarket after travelling from the pick-up depot.

The innovative work of the research team proposed a different model, whereby the RBC act as a circulating store of amino acids and only small packages of amino acids would be delivered at any one time.

  • This analogy would have the delivery truck acting more like a mobile shop, always carrying stores of produce and dropping off what is needed when it is needed.

The team did indeed show that the RBC could take up and release around 15% of their cellular load within very rapid and efficient time frames.

  • These results provide vital new insight for amino acid distribution and storage.

The study also provided novel evidence that increasing fitness levels and training intensity could result in higher stores of amino acids in the red blood cells, presumably to support the higher levels of exertion and protein synthesis required for muscle growth and repair.


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