Target cells : Definition, Detection and Clinical Significance

Target cells are red blood cells shaped like a cup or a bullseye. It provides useful information on many clinical conditions. This blog post will define target cells, describe detection methods, and explore their clinical importance.

◉ What are Target cells ?

◉ Detection of Target cells

The Target cells detection can be performed using various laboratory methods, including:

Target cells on peripheral blood smears

To make a peripheral blood smear, a thin layer of blood is smeared on a glass slide, stained (Typically with May-Grunwald Giemsa stain (MGG)) and observed under a microscope.

The presence of target cells can be identified based on their characteristic appearance, with a central area of hemoglobin surrounded by a clear ring and an outer rim of hemoglobin.

Automated blood cell analyzers

These analyzers utilize laser-based technology and image analysis algorithms to identify and differentiate abnormal red blood cell morphology.

Other methods

Additional tests, such as osmotic fragility tests or hemoglobin electrophoresis, may also aid in detecting and diagnosing conditions associated with target cells.

◉ Causes and Clinical significance of Target cells

Target cells can be associated with various underlying conditions and diseases. Their presence can provide valuable diagnostic information and guide further investigations. Here are a few examples of the clinical significance of target cells:

It is important to note that leptocytes alone are not diagnostic of a specific condition. Further evaluation, including clinical history, additional laboratory tests, and consultation with a healthcare professional, is necessary to determine the underlying cause.

◉ Conclusion

In conclusion, target cells are unique red blood cells with a characteristic appearance, distinguishable by a central hemoglobin area surrounded by a rim of paler staining. They can be detected through microscopic peripheral blood smear examinations or automated blood cell analyzers. Its presence in blood smears allows for the identification and understanding of various medical conditions, including liver disease, hemoglobinopathies, iron deficiency anemia, liver transplantation outcomes, and hemolytic disorders. By recognizing its clinical significance, healthcare professionals can make informed diagnostic and treatment decisions, contributing to improved patient care and outcomes.


  1. Target Cells (Codocytes)
  2. William Aird - Target Cells
  3. Edward C. Lynch - Peripheral Blood Smear
  4. Target Cells – Causes, Examples and Images