Echinocytes are actually blood components. They are red blood cells (RBCs) or erythrocytes which have undergone the process called crenation. Crenation is the process wherein erythrocytes grow sharp or blunt spicules in the circumference of the RBCs primarily due to the lipid bilayer outer leaflet enlargement. These spicules usually have the same sizes and appear to be evenly distanced from each other. These features distinguish them from acanthocytes which are irregularly-shaped and unevenly spaced.
A number of conditions may have lead to the proliferation of echinocytes. Let us discuss some of the possible causes of echinocytosis. The first one is believed to be due to the aging process of the RBCs. When RBCs are being placed in a tube with excessive EDTA concentrations, echinocytes are also likely to increase in number. Generally, echinocytosis can be accounted from RBC dehydration, decreased ATP and increased pH.
There are also drugs that lead to echinocytosis such as furosemide, phenylbutazone, salicylates and those that are used as chemotherapeutic agents such as doxorubicin. Electrolyte imbalance may as well be pointed out as one of the causes of echinocyte formation. When intracellular potassium has been depleted, the red blood cells get dehydrated. Abnormally low levels of sodium would also lead to the same condition. Kidney, liver and other metabolic disorders can also be blamed for echinocytosis. This condition, however, may be reversed.