Primarily known for their work hauling oxygen to tissues throughout the body, red blood cells may also play a part in regulating activities of another blood component. The cells can release a chemical that signals blood-clotting platelets to become less sticky and therefore less likely to clog a narrow vessel, chemists report.
Red blood cells change shape as they maneuver through the curves and narrows of the body's circulatory system. As they flex, the cells release small amounts of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), an energy-storing molecule, into the bloodstream. Earlier research had established that ATP can stimulate cells lining the walls of blood vessels to produce nitric oxide (NO), which causes the walls to relax, allowing blood to flow more easily.