Reticulocyte count, mean reticulocyte volume, immature reticulocyte fraction, and mean sphered cell volume in elite athletes: reference values and comparison with the general population

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The role of measurement of reticulocytes and their parameters is growing in sports medicine. The use of reticulocyte counts in protocols for evaluating and screening for the suspected abuse of hormones that stimulate the bone marrow is an example. Reticulocytes are also important for evaluation of the performance and general health status of athletes, especially for monitoring therapies and diets. The current availability of fully automated haematological systems that can measure reticulocyte numbers and characteristics (volume, density) increases the potential use of these parameters in laboratory and sports medicine. Few studies have considered the application of these parameters in athletes and a lack of specific reference ranges means that their valid clinical use is difficult.


Using a Coulter LH700 instrument, we measured reticulocyte count (Retics), mean reticulocyte volume (MRV), immature reticulocyte fraction (IRF), and mean sphered cell volume (MSCV) in 106 male professional elite athletes (football and rugby players and skiers). Reference intervals for the athletes were compared with the intervals found for a control group of 73 age-matched males.


We calculated the following reference intervals: 0.30–1.54% for Retics, 93.1–114.8 fL for MRV, 0.18–0.39% for IRF, and 76.8–94.5 fL for MSCV.


No statistically significant differences were observed for Retics, MRV, IRF, and MSCV between elite athletes and controls. Significant differences were observed for haemoglobin (Hb), erythrocytes, haematocrit (Ht), and mean corpuscular volume. Moreover, no statistical differences were observed among different sports, whereas differences were remarked in football and rugby players between the samples drawn before the start of competitive season and the samples drawn during the season, demonstrating that reticulocyte counts and parameters are useful for monitoring sportsmen.

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