Hemoglobin-vesicles (HbV) have been developed for use as artificial oxygen carriers (particle diameter, 250 nm) in which a purified Hb solution is encapsulated with a phospholipid bilayer membrane. The influence of HbV on the reticuloendothelial system was studied by carbon clearance measurements and histopathological examination. The HbV suspension ([Hb] = 10 g/dl) was intravenously infused in male Wistar rats at dose rates of 10 and 20 ml/kg, and the phagocytic activity was measured by monitoring the rate of carbon clearance at 8 hours and at 1, 3, 7, and 14 days after infusion. The phagocytic activity transiently decreased one day after infusion by about 40%, but it recovered and was enhanced at 3 days, showing a maximum of about twice the quiescent level at 7 days, and then returned to the normal value at 14 days. The initial transient decreased activity indicates a partly, but not completely, suppressed defensive function of the body. The succeeding increased phagocytic activity corresponds to the increased metabolism of HbV. The histopathological examination with anti-human Hb antibody, hematoxylin/eosin, and oil red O stainings showed that HbV was metabolized within 7 days. Hemosiderin was very slightly confirmed with Berlin blue staining at 3 and 7 days in liver and spleen, though they completely disappeared at 14 days, indicating that the heme metabolism, excretion or recycling of iron proceeded smoothly and iron deposition was minimal. Electron microscopic examination of the spleen and liver tissues clearly demonstrated the particles of HbV with a diameter of about 1/40 of red blood cells in capillaries, and in phagosomes as entrapped in the spleen macrophages and Kupffer cells one day after infusion. The vesicular structure could not be observed at 7 days. Even though the infusion of HbV modified the phagocytic activity for 2 weeks, it does not seem to cause any irreversible damage to the phagocytic organs. These results offer important information for evaluating the safety issues of HbV for clinical use.