An investigation of the effects of donor age on some haematological characteristics of the Wistar rat (Rattus Norwegicus)
Knowledge of haematological 'normdata', of experimental animals, and the biological variables that affect it is essential in order to recognise variations from the normal. In addition, the haemopoietic system may be regarded in principle as good material for studies of the cellular events associated with ageing. These considerations, together with the well documented effects of age on various physiological processes, prompted an investigation into the effects of donor age on several blood parameters. Review of the literature revealed that age-related changes in blood parameters have been reported for several species, but the documentation thereof is incomplete, inconsistent and inconclusive in many respects. Blood samples from male Wistar rats of nine different biological ages, ranging from birth to 96 weeks of age, were analysed for haematological and biochemical parameters. These included the blood cell counts, erythrocytic indices, haemoglobin concentration, haematocrit, erythrocytic 2,3-diphosphoglycerate and adenosine triphosphate levels, and erythrocytic glucose 6-phosphate dehydrogenase and pyruvate kinase activities. Data was obtained which demonstrates that all blood parameters measured underwent significant, although not al~ays regular, age-related changes. These changes were found to be more marked during the first month of life than at any other period. Evidence is also presented to show that the depressed haemoglobin concentration during the early postnatal life may not imply a condition of 'physiologic anaemia' as was previously thought. Since the blood profile exhibits only slight changes from about 24 weeks of age, it does not seem that the haemopoietic system of the old rat deteriorates significantly as to constitute a limiting factor for the animal's life. However, the importance of taking an animal's age into account when blood parameters constitute experimental results is emphasised. The second phase of this study involved a detailed investigation of the effect of the animal's age on erythrocytes in particular. These cells have limited life-spans, and are often used as models in studies of cellular ageing. Special emphasis was therefore placed on comparing the relative effects of host and cellular ageing on the properties of these cells. Erythrocytes from rats between one and 48 weeks of age were separated into two populations by a modification of the conventional density gradient centrifugation technique. The two populations were assumed to differ in mean cell age and were analysed for erythrocytic indices, phosphate ester concentrations and the activities of glucose 6-phosphate dehydrogenase and pyruvate kinase. Evidence is presented to show that ageing rat erythrocytes exhibit a decrease in volume, phosphate ester content and enzyme activities while the cellular haemoglobin concentration increases. Differences in the mean cell age however, does not seem to account for the donor-age-related effects observed in the whole blood parameters. Rather, the significant differences found in the characteristics of similarly aged red cells, between variously aged donors, demonstrate that the biological age of the organism influences the red cells and probably the ageing thereof in vivo. The contribution of the changing status of the erythrocyte's environment of progressively older animals, to alterations which take place in the ageing red cell is discussed.