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Nanoscale Surface Characterization of Human Erythrocytes by Atomic Force Microscopy: A Critical Review

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Erythrocytes (red blood cells, RBCs), the most common type of blood cells in humans are well known for their ability in transporting oxygen to the whole body through hemoglobin. Alterations in their membrane skeletal proteins modify shape and mechanical properties resulting in several diseases. Atomic force microscopy (AFM), a new emerging technique allows non-invasive imaging of cell, its membrane and characterization of surface roughness at micrometer/nanometer resolution with minimal sample preparation. AFM imaging provides direct measurement of single cell morphology, its alteration and quantitative data on surface properties. Hence, AFM studies of human RBCs have picked up pace in the last decade. The aim of this paper is to review the various applications of AFM for characterization of human RBCs topology. AFM has been used for studying surface characteristics like nanostructure of membranes, cytoskeleton, microstructure, fluidity, vascular endothelium, etc., of human RBCs. Various modes of AFM imaging has been used to measure surface properties like stiffness, roughness, and elasticity. Topological alterations of erythrocytes in response to different pathological conditions have also been investigated by AFM. Thus, AFM-based studies and application of image processing techniques can effectively provide detailed insights about the morphology and membrane properties of human erythrocytes at nanoscale.

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