Do Red Blood Cells Have a Nucleus?

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  • 0:02 Not a Simple Answer
  • 0:57 What Is a Red Blood Cell?
  • 1:20 Erythropoiesis
  • 3:20 Why Expel the Nucleus?
  • 3:48 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Phenix
In this lesson, we'll answer the question: 'Do red blood cells have a nucleus?' We will discuss how stages of red blood cell maturation complicate this question and come to a final answer on the topic.

Not a Simple Answer

Do red blood cells have a nucleus? Well, the short answer to this question is no.

Red blood cells, or erythrocytes (erythro being Greek for 'red' and cyte meaning 'cells') are actually anucleated cells, meaning that they don't have a nucleus. But wait! Don't go away just yet because this is actually a much more tricky question than you would expect.

Why so tricky? Well, while mature blood cells are anucleated, the precursor cells that mature into erythrocytes actually do. Kind of like a tadpole losing its tail to become an adult frog.

So, the question depends on whether you are referring to a mature erythrocyte or an immature erythrocyte. Whoa- did I just blow your mind? Okay, maybe not, but it's still pretty interesting. Why don't mature erythrocytes have a nucleus? That might be an even better question.

What Is a Red Blood Cell?

Let's get some facts straight first. You might know that erythrocytes are red because of their hemoglobin, which is the protein molecule that fills the interior of the cell and is responsible for binding with oxygen. But, did you know that your blood is produced within your bones? Actually, to be specific, erythropoiesis, the production of erythrocytes, occurs within your bone marrow.


It all starts with your kidneys - that's right, your little bean-shaped kidneys do play a role in this. Your kidneys' job is to filter your blood for pathogens and old erythrocytes, which need to be removed from circulation, so, in the process, they keep tabs on the general health of your blood. Kidneys secrete a hormone called erythropoietin when they sense that your blood supply is getting low based on your body's oxygen levels. No wonder they are so important, right? Anyway, this release of erythropoietin into your blood stream in turn stimulates your bone marrow to start producing more erythrocytes.

Your bone marrow houses nucleated stem cells, called hemocytoblasts, which are capable of becoming any type of blood cell - they just need direction as to which one. Now, once a hemocytoblast has been given its orders to become a erythrocyte, it becomes a proerythroblast, or a nucleated cell committed to becoming a erythrocyte - sort of like a soldier starting off under the rank of private before they can graduate into becoming a general.

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