Impaired Cytoskeletal and Membrane Biophysical Properties of Acanthocytes in Hypobetalipoproteinemia – A Case Study

Anne Sophie Cloos, Laura G.M. Daenen, Mauriane Maja, Amaury Stommen, Juliette Vanderroost, Patrick Van Der Smissen, Minke Rab, Jan Westerink, Eric Mignolet, Yvan Larondelle, Romano Terrasi, Giulio G. Muccioli, Andra C. Dumitru, David Alsteens, Richard van Wijk, Donatienne Tyteca*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Familial hypobetalipoproteinemia is a metabolic disorder mainly caused by mutations in the apolipoprotein B gene. In its homozygous form it can lead without treatment to severe ophthalmological and neurological manifestations. In contrast, the heterozygous form is generally asymptomatic but associated with a low risk of cardiovascular disease. Acanthocytes or thorny red blood cells (RBCs) are described for both forms of the disease. However, those morphological changes are poorly characterized and their potential consequences for RBC functionality are not understood. Thus, in the present study, we asked whether, to what extent and how acanthocytes from a patient with heterozygous familial hypobetalipoproteinemia could exhibit altered RBC functionality. Acanthocytes represented 50% of the total RBC population and contained mitoTracker-positive surface patches, indicating the presence of mitochondrial fragments. While RBC osmotic fragility, calcium content and ATP homeostasis were preserved, a slight decrease of RBC deformability combined with an increase of intracellular free reactive oxygen species were observed. The spectrin cytoskeleton was altered, showing a lower density and an enrichment in patches. At the membrane level, no obvious modification of the RBC membrane fatty acids nor of the cholesterol content were detected but the ceramide species were all increased. Membrane stiffness and curvature were also increased whereas transversal asymmetry was preserved. In contrast, lateral asymmetry was highly impaired showing: (i) increased abundance and decreased functionality of sphingomyelin-enriched domains; (ii) cholesterol enrichment in spicules; and (iii) ceramide enrichment in patches. We propose that oxidative stress induces cytoskeletal alterations, leading to increased membrane stiffness and curvature and impaired lipid lateral distribution in domains and spicules. In addition, ceramide- and spectrin-enriched patches could result from a RBC maturation defect. Altogether, the data indicate that acanthocytes are associated with cytoskeletal and membrane lipid lateral asymmetry alterations, while deformability is only mildly impaired. In addition, familial hypobetalipoproteinemia might also affect RBC precursors leading to disturbed RBC maturation. This study paves the way for the potential use of membrane biophysics and lipid vital imaging as new methods for diagnosis of RBC disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Article number638027
JournalFrontiers in Physiology
Publication statusPublished - 23 Feb 2021


  • acanthocytosis
  • ceramide
  • erythropoiesis
  • lipid domains
  • lipidomics
  • membrane biophysical properties
  • mitochondria
  • reactive oxygen species


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