Glutaraldehyde - A subtle tool in the investigation of healthy and pathologic red blood cells

Asena Abay, Greta Simionato, Revaz Chachanidze, Anna Bogdanova, Laura Hertz, Paola Bianchi, Emile Van Den Akker, Marieke Von Lindern, Marc Leonetti, Giampaolo Minetti, Christian Wagner, Lars Kaestner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Glutaraldehyde is a well-known substance used in biomedical research to fix cells. Since hemolytic anemias are often associated with red blood cell shape changes deviating from the biconcave disk shape, conservation of these shapes for imaging in general and 3D-imaging in particular, like confocal microscopy, scanning electron microscopy or scanning probe microscopy is a common desire. Along with the fixation comes an increase in the stiffness of the cells. In the context of red blood cells this increased rigidity is often used to mimic malaria infected red blood cells because they are also stiffer than healthy red blood cells. However, the use of glutaraldehyde is associated with numerous pitfalls: (i) while the increase in rigidity by an application of increasing concentrations of glutaraldehyde is an analog process, the fixation is a rather digital event (all or none); (ii) addition of glutaraldehyde massively changes osmolality in a concentration dependent manner and hence cell shapes can be distorted; (iii) glutaraldehyde batches differ in their properties especially in the ratio of monomers and polymers; (iv) handling pitfalls, like inducing shear artifacts of red blood cell shapes or cell density changes that needs to be considered, e.g., when working with cells in flow; (v) staining glutaraldehyde treated red blood cells need different approaches compared to living cells, for instance, because glutaraldehyde itself induces a strong fluorescence. Within this paper we provide documentation about the subtle use of glutaraldehyde on healthy and pathologic red blood cells and how to deal with or circumvent pitfalls.

Original languageEnglish
Article number514
JournalFrontiers in Physiology
Issue numberMAY
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2019


  • Batch variation
  • Cell shapes
  • Erythrocytes
  • Fixation
  • Glutaraldehyde
  • Hemolytic anemia
  • Osmolality
  • Stiffness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


Dive into the research topics of 'Glutaraldehyde - A subtle tool in the investigation of healthy and pathologic red blood cells'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this