What Are Erythrocytes? - Definition & Function

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  • 0:00 What are Erythrocytes?
  • 1:20 Functions of Erythocytes
  • 2:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lynee Carter
From this lesson, you will learn about the cells in the body called erythrocytes. Find out how they are specifically designed to complete their functions related to oxygen and carbon dioxide.

What Are Erythrocytes?

There are important cells in your body that travel in the blood. They are involved in a gas exchange that is essential to human life. Red blood cells (RBCs) are their most common name, but they are also called erythrocytes. In medical terminology, erythro- means red, while -cyte means cell.

Erythrocytes have specific characteristics that all begin with the letter R:

  • Erythrocytes are red and consist of a protein called hemoglobin, which contains red iron. This is why our blood is red in color.
  • Erythrocytes are round. When these cells are normal, they can look like doughnuts with the holes in the center. Hemoglobin is responsible for the erythrocytes' round shape; it increases their surface area, allowing them to carry more oxygen molecules.
  • Finally, erythrocytes are like rubber, in that they're smooth and can easily bend. This gives them the ability to travel quickly in the blood and squeeze through small vessels to get to various locations in the body.

Erythrocytes are created in the bone marrow through a process called erythropoiesis, before being released into the bloodstream. At the end of their life, they go to the spleen where they are broken down. Their lifespan is about 120 days, or 4 months.

Functions of Erythrocytes

In the lungs, erythrocytes carry out two functions that involve a gas exchange. First, oxygen breathed in is picked up by the erythrocytes and carried to other cells where it is used as food and fuel for the body. Then, carbon dioxide, which is considered waste from the body, is dropped off by the erythrocytes and then breathed out.

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