Free radical metabolism in human erythrocytes

Clin Chim Acta. 2008 Apr;390(1-2):1-11. doi: 10.1016/j.cca.2007.12.025. Epub 2008 Jan 18.


As the red cell emerges from the bone marrow, it loses its nucleus, ribosomes, and mitochondria and therefore all capacity for protein synthesis. However, because of the high O(2) tension in arterial blood and heme Fe content, reactive oxygen species (ROS) are continuously produced within red cells. Erythrocytes transport large amount of oxygen over their lifespan resulting in oxidative stress. Various factors can lead to the generation of oxidizing radicals such as O(2)(-), H(2)O(2), HO in erythrocytes. Evidence indicates that many physiological and pathological conditions such as aging, inflammation, eryptosis develop through ROS action. As such, red cells have potent antioxidant protection consisting of enzymatic and nonenzymatic pathways that modify highly ROS into substantially less reactive intermediates. The object of this review is to shed light on the role of ROS both at physiological and pathological levels and the structural requirements of antioxidants for appreciable radical-scavenging activity. Obviously, much is still to be discovered before we clearly understand mechanisms of free radical systems in erythrocytes. Ongoing trends in the field are recognition of undetermined oxidant/antioxidant interactions and elucidation of important signaling networks in radical metabolism.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antioxidants / metabolism
  • Apoptosis
  • Free Radicals / blood*
  • Humans
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism


  • Antioxidants
  • Free Radicals
  • Reactive Oxygen Species