Since birth-induced oxidative stress (OS) results in the removal of erythrocytes from the blood stream, we studied the binding of autologous IgG to erythrocyte band 3 dimers (the 170-kDa band, which marks the erythrocytes for removal) in preterm and term newborns and in adults. The 170-kDa band was present in as much as 74% of preterm, in 21% of term newborns, and in 10% of adults. During erythrocyte ageing "in vitro" (0, 24, and 48 h aerobic incubation), the appearance of the band occurred much faster with erythrocytes from newborns (particularly preterm) than with those from adults. When the blots for the 170-kDa band were quantified by scanning densitometry, it was seen that the 0 time values were significantly higher in preterm compared to term and adult values. After aerobic incubation a progressive increase in the optical density was observed in each group and the densities were higher in preterm than in the other groups. The course of iron release during the various incubations was analogous to that of the 170-kDa band blots, and significant correlations were found at 0 and 48 h. Methemoglobin formation roughly paralleled iron release. Esterified F(2)-isoprostanes (markers of OS) and O(2)(-) production in the nonincubated (0 time) erythrocytes were much higher in newborn (preterm and term) than in adult erythrocytes. Plasma free F(2)-isoprostanes were significantly higher in preterms than in terms and in terms than in adults. Plasma non-protein-bound iron (NPBI) was higher in preterm than in term newborns and not detectable in adults. In conclusion dimers of band 3 with autologous IgG are found under conditions in which OS can be detected in erythrocytes or in plasma: namely in newborns or in aged erythrocytes.