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Roles of the NFκB and glutathione pathways in mature human erythrocytes


Anucleated erythrocytes were long considered as oxygen-transporting cells with limited regulatory functions. Components of different nuclear signaling pathways have not been investigated in those cells, yet. Surprisingly, we repeatedly found significant amounts of transcription factors in purified erythrocyte preparations, i.e. nuclear factor κB (NFκB), and major components of the canonical NFκB signaling pathway. To investigate the functional role of NFκB signaling, the effects of the preclinical compounds Bay 11-7082 and parthenolide on the survival of highly purified erythrocytes were investigated. Interestingly, both inhibitors of the NFκB pathway triggered erythrocyte programmed cell death as demonstrated by enhanced phospholipid scrambling (phosphatidylserine exposure) and cell shrinkage. Anucleated erythrocytes are an ideal cellular model allowing the study of nongenomic mechanisms contributing to suicidal cell death. As NFκB inhibitors might also interfere with the anti-oxidative defense systems of the cell, we measured the levels of reduced glutathione (GSH) after challenge with the inhibitors. Indeed, incubation of erythrocytes with Bay 11-7082 clearly decreased erythrocyte GSH levels. In conclusion, the pharmacological inhibitors of the NFκB pathway Bay 11-7082 and parthenolide interfere with the survival of erythrocytes involving mechanisms other than disruption of NFκB-dependent gene expression. Besides affecting erythrocyte survival, NFκB inhibition and induction of erythrocyte phosphatidylserine exposure may influence blood clotting. Future studies will be aimed at discriminating between NFκB-dependent and NFκB-independent GSH-mediated effects of Bay 11-7082 and parthenolide on erythrocyte death.


Ca2+ :



extracellular signal-regulated kinase 2


glycoprotein IIb/IIIa


reduced glutathione


inter-cellular adhesion molecule




inhibitor of kappaB


IκB kinase-α






c-Jun N-terminal kinase 1


nuclear factor κB




putative phosphatidylserine receptor


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Correspondence to Florian Lang.

Additional information

Paper authored by participants of the international conference: 18th Meeting, European Association for Red Cell Research, Wrocław — Piechowice, Poland, May 12–15th, 2011. Publication cost was covered by the organizers of this meeting.

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Ghashghaeinia, M., Toulany, M., Saki, M. et al. Roles of the NFκB and glutathione pathways in mature human erythrocytes. Cell Mol Biol Lett 17, 11–20 (2012).

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Key words

  • Eryptosis
  • Nuclear factor kappa B
  • NFκB
  • IKK-α
  • IκB-α
  • Bay 11-7082
  • Parthenolide