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Name: Bob
Status: other
Grade: other
Location: Outside U.S.
Country: Central African Republic
Date: Winter 2012-2913

You have a red blood cell instructed for hemoglobin and it looses its nucleus. Can a cell be fully functional without the nucleus? How long would it last and still be functional without the eventualy destruction by the spleen, etc.?

It is certainly true that red blood cells (RBCs) in mammals do not contain nuclei, as well as most other cellular organelles. As a result, they obviously cannot carry out many functions of a normal cell - they cannot synthesize RNA for the production of proteins, they cannot undergo oxidative phosphorylation in the mitochondrion to release the most energy possible from glucose, etc. However, that does not mean the cells are defective or non-functional. In fact, RBCs are highly specialized cells optimized for one function - carrying oxygen and carbon dioxide to and from the body's tissues. They don't need most of the other cellular machinery for protein synthesis/cell division/signalling/etc. - instead they are completely packed full of hemoglobin and circulate through the blood stream.

Since these cells are fundamentally functional for their particular purpose, they are not tagged by the body as 'damaged' and are thus not immediately targeted for destruction. Most RBCs circulate in the blood stream for 3-4 months before undergoing a process called 'senescence', where aging cells are digested and recycled by the body.

S. Unterman Ph.D.

Hi Bob,

Thanks for the question. If a eukaryotic cell ( a cell with a nucleus) loses it nucleus, the cell will be able to function for a short time. The actual time depends on many factors, such as protein and enzyme content, amount of intracellular messengers, etc. Some types of stem cell therapy depend on the ability of a cell to remain alive until a new nucleus is inserted into it.

A red blood cell has a life of around 60 days (if I recall correctly) before it is removed by the spleen.


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