Formation of Hemoglobin
Synthesis of hemoglobin begins in the proerythroblasts and continues even into the reticulocyte stage of the red blood cells. Therefore, when reticulocytes leave the bone marrow and pass into the blood stream, they continue to form minute quantities of hemoglobin for another day or so until they become mature erythro-cytes.
Figure 32-5 shows the basic chemical steps in the formation of hemoglobin. First, succinyl-CoA, formed in the Krebs metabolic cycle (as explained in Chapter 67), binds with glycine to form a pyrrole molecule. In turn, four pyrroles combine to form protoporphyrin IX, which then combines with iron to form the heme molecule. Finally, each heme molecule combines with a long polypeptide chain, a globin synthesized by ribosomes, forming a subunit of hemoglobin called a hemoglobin chain (Figure 32-6). Each chain has a molecular weight of about 16,000; four of these in turn bind together loosely to form the whole hemoglobin molecule.
There are several slight variations in the different subunit hemoglobin chains, depending on the amino acid composition of the polypeptide portion. The different types of chains are designated alpha chains, beta chains, gamma chains, and delta chains. The most common form of hemoglobin in the adult human being, hemoglobin A, is a combination of two alpha chains and two beta chains. Hemoglobin A has a molecular weight of 64,458.
Because each hemoglobin chain has a heme prosthetic group containing an atom of iron, and because there are four hemoglobin chains in each hemoglobin molecule, one finds four iron atoms in each hemoglobin molecule; each of these can bind loosely with one molecule of oxygen, making a total of four molecules of oxygen (or eight oxygen atoms) that can be transported by each hemoglobin molecule.
The types of hemoglobin chains in the hemoglobin molecule determine the binding affinity of the hemoglobin for oxygen. Abnormalities of the chains can alter the physical characteristics of the hemoglobin molecule as well. For instance, in sickle cell anemia, the amino acid valine is substituted for glutamic acid at
Basic structure of the hemoglobin molecule, showing one of the four heme chains that bind together to form the hemoglobin molecule.
one point in each of the two beta chains. When this type of hemoglobin is exposed to low oxygen, it forms elongated crystals inside the red blood cells that are sometimes 15 micrometers in length. These make it almost impossible for the cells to pass through many small capillaries, and the spiked ends of the crystals are likely to rupture the cell membranes, leading to sickle cell anemia.
Combination of Hemoglobin with Oxygen. The most important feature of the hemoglobin molecule is its ability to combine loosely and reversibly with oxygen. This ability is discussed in detail in Chapter 40 in relation to respiration, because the primary function of hemoglobin in the body is to combine with oxygen in the lungs and then to release this oxygen readily in the peripheral tissue capillaries, where the gaseous tension of oxygen is much lower than in the lungs.
Oxygen does not combine with the two positive bonds of the iron in the hemoglobin molecule. Instead, it binds loosely with one of the so-called coordination bonds of the iron atom. This is an extremely loose bond, so that the combination is easily reversible. Furthermore, the oxygen does not become ionic oxygen but is carried as molecular oxygen (composed of two oxygen atoms) to the tissues, where, because of the loose, readily reversible combination, it is released into the tissue fluids still in the form of molecular oxygen rather than ionic oxygen.
Because iron is important for the formation not only of hemoglobin but also of other essential elements in the body (e.g., myoglobin, cytochromes, cytochrome oxidase, peroxidase, catalase), it is important to understand the means by which iron is utilized in the body. The total quantity of iron in the body averages 4 to 5 grams, about 65 per cent of which is in the form of hemoglobin. About 4 per cent is in the form of myoglobin, 1 per cent is in the form of the various heme compounds that promote intracellular oxidation, 0.1 per cent is combined with the protein transferrin in the blood plasma, and 15 to 30 per cent is stored for later use, mainly in the reticuloendothelial system and liver parenchymal cells, principally in the form of ferritin.
Transport and Storage of Iron. Transport, storage, and metabolism of iron in the body are diagrammed in Figure 32-7 and can be explained as follows: When iron is absorbed from the small intestine, it immediately combines in the blood plasma with a beta globulin, apotransferrin, to form transferrin, which is then transported in the plasma. The iron is loosely bound in the transferrin and, consequently, can be released to any tissue cell at any point in the body. Excess iron in the blood is deposited especially in the liver hepatocytes and less in the reticuloendothelial cells of the bone marrow.
In the cell cytoplasm, iron combines mainly with a protein, apoferritin, to form ferritin. Apoferritin has a molecular weight of about 460,000, and varying quantities of iron can combine in clusters of iron radicals with this large molecule; therefore, ferritin may contain only a small amount of iron or a large amount. This iron stored as ferritin is called storage iron.
Smaller quantities of the iron in the storage pool are in an extremely insoluble form called hemosiderin. This is especially true when the total quantity of iron in the body is more than the apoferritin storage pool can accommodate. Hemosiderin collects in cells in the form of large clusters that can be observed microscopically as large particles. In contrast, ferritin particles are so small and dispersed that they usually can be seen in the cell cytoplasm only with the electron microscope.
When the quantity of iron in the plasma falls low, some of the iron in the ferritin storage pool is removed easily and transported in the form of transferrin in the plasma to the areas of the body where it is needed. A unique characteristic of the transferrin molecule is that it binds strongly with receptors in the cell membranes of erythroblasts in the bone marrow. Then, along with its bound iron, it is ingested into the erythroblasts by endocytosis. There the transferrin delivers the iron directly to the mitochondria, where heme is synthesized. In people who do not have adequate quantities of transferrin in their blood, failure to transport iron to the erythroblasts in this manner can cause severe hypochromic anemia—that is, red cells that contain much less hemoglobin than normal.
When red blood cells have lived their life span and are destroyed, the hemoglobin released from the cells is ingested by monocyte-macrophage cells. There, iron is liberated and is stored mainly in the ferritin pool to be used as needed for the formation of new hemoglobin.
Daily Loss of Iron. A man excretes about 0.6 milligram of iron each day, mainly into the feces. Additional quantities of iron are lost when bleeding occurs. For a woman, additional menstrual loss of blood brings long-term iron loss to an average of about 1.3 mg/day.
Iron is absorbed from all parts of the small intestine, mostly by the following mechanism. The liver secretes moderate amounts of apotransferrin into the bile, which flows through the bile duct into the duodenum. Here, the apotransferrin binds with free iron and also with certain iron compounds, such as hemoglobin and myoglobin from meat, two of the most important sources of iron in the diet. This combination is called transferrin. It, in turn, is attracted to and binds with receptors in the membranes of the intestinal epithelial cells. Then, by pinocytosis, the transferrin molecule, carrying its iron store, is absorbed into the epithelial cells and later released into the blood capillaries beneath these cells in the form of plasma transferrin.
Iron absorption from the intestines is extremely slow, at a maximum rate of only a few milligrams per day. This means that even when tremendous quantities of iron are present in the food, only small proportions can be absorbed.
Regulation of Total Body Iron by Controlling Rate of Absorption.
When the body has become saturated with iron so that essentially all apoferritin in the iron storage areas is already combined with iron, the rate of additional iron absorption from the intestinal tract becomes greatly decreased. Conversely, when the iron stores have become depleted, the rate of absorption can accelerate probably five or more times normal. Thus, total body iron is regulated mainly by altering the rate of absorption.
When red blood cells are delivered from the bone marrow into the circulatory system, they normally circulate an average of 120 days before being destroyed. Even though mature red cells do not have a nucleus, mitochondria, or endoplasmic reticulum, they do have cytoplasmic enzymes that are capable of metabolizing glucose and forming small amounts of adenosine triphosphate. These enzymes also (1) maintain pliability of the cell membrane, (2) maintain membrane transport of ions, (3) keep the iron of the cells' hemoglobin in the ferrous form rather than ferric form, and (4) prevent oxidation of the proteins in the red cells. Even so, the metabolic systems of old red cells become progressively less active, and the cells become more and more fragile, presumably because their life processes wear out.
Once the red cell membrane becomes fragile, the cell ruptures during passage through some tight spot of the circulation. Many of the red cells self-destruct in the spleen, where they squeeze through the red pulp of the spleen. There, the spaces between the structural trabeculae of the red pulp, through which most of the cells must pass, are only 3 micrometers wide, in comparison with the 8-micrometer diameter of the red cell. When the spleen is removed, the number of old abnormal red cells circulating in the blood increases considerably.
Destruction of Hemoglobin. When red blood cells burst and release their hemoglobin, the hemoglobin is phagocytized almost immediately by macrophages in many parts of the body, but especially by the Kupffer cells of the liver and macrophages of the spleen and bone marrow. During the next few hours to days, the macrophages release iron from the hemoglobin and pass it back into the blood, to be carried by transfer-rin either to the bone marrow for the production of new red blood cells or to the liver and other tissues for storage in the form of ferritin. The porphyrin portion of the hemoglobin molecule is converted by the macrophages, through a series of stages, into the bile pigment bilirubin, which is released into the blood and later removed from the body by secretion through the liver into the bile; this is discussed in relation to liver function in Chapter 70.
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This ebook provides an introductory explanation of the workings of the human body, with an effort to draw connections between the body systems and explain their interdependencies. A framework for the book is homeostasis and how the body maintains balance within each system. This is intended as a first introduction to physiology for a college-level course.