The formation of new red blood cells (RBC) (erythropoiesis) has served as a paradigm for understanding cellular differentiation and developmental control of gene expression. The metabolic regulation of this complex, coordinated process remains poorly understood. Each step of erythropoiesis, including lineage specification of hematopoietic stem cells, proliferation, differentiation, and terminal maturation into highly specialized oxygen-carrying cells, has unique metabolic requirements. Developing erythrocytes in mammals are also characterized by unique metabolic events such as loss of mitochondria with switch to glycolysis, ejection of nucleus and organelles, high-level heme and hemoglobin synthesis, and antioxidant requirement to protect hemoglobin molecules. Genetic defects in metabolic enzymes, including pyruvate kinase and glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase, cause common erythrocyte disorders, whereas other inherited disorders such as sickle cell disease and β-thalassemia display metabolic abnormalities associated with disease pathophysiology. Here we describe recent discoveries on the metabolic control of RBC formation and function, highlight emerging concepts in understanding the erythroid metabolome, and discuss potential therapeutic benefits of targeting metabolism for RBC disorders.

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