The reversible aggregation of human red blood cells (RBC) by proteins or polymers continues to be of biological and biophysical interest, yet the mechanistic details governing the process are still being explored. A depletion model has been proposed for aggregation by the neutral polyglucose dextran and its applicability at high molecular weights has been recently documented. In the present study the depletion of high molecular weight dextrans on the red cell surface was measured as a function of polymer molecular mass (46 kDa-28 MDa), ionic strength (5 and 15 mM NaCl) and polymer concentration ( <= 0.9 g/dL). The experimental data clearly indicate an increasing depletion effect with increasing molecular weight: the effects of medium viscosity on RBC mobility were markedly overestimated by the Helmholtz-Smoluchowski relation, with the difference increasing with dextran molecular mass. These results agree,with the concept of polymer depletion near the RBC surface and lend strong support to a "depletion model" mechanism for dextran-mediated RBC aggregation. Our findings provide important new insight into polymer-RBC interactions and suggest the usefulness of this model for fundamental studies of cell-cell affinity and for the development of new agents to stabilize or destabilize specific bio-fluids.