Delayed hemolytic transfusion reaction in sickle cell disease patients: evidence of an emerging syndrome with suicidal red blood cell death

Transfusion. 2009 Sep;49(9):1785-92. doi: 10.1111/j.1537-2995.2009.02199.x. Epub 2009 Apr 28.


Background: Delayed hemolytic transfusion reaction (DHTR) is a life-threatening complication in sickle cell disease (SCD) characterized by recurrence of disease complications, recipient red blood cell (RBC) destruction, and frequently no detectable antibody. Phosphatidylserine (PS) exposure signs suicidal RBC death or eryptosis and is involved in vasoocclusive crisis (VOC).

Study design and methods: Transfusion was monitored in 48 SCD patients for up to 20 days. PS exposure was evaluated in vivo on patient RBCs (PS-RBCs) at five time points and in vitro after incubation of donor RBCs with pretransfusion plasma.

Results: Three VOC patients displayed DHTR with recurrent SCD features and no detectable antibody in two cases. In vitro, PS-RBC percentage was significantly increased by incubating donor RBCs with pretransfusion plasma samples from DHTR patients with no detectable antibody. No such increase was observed with samples from other patients. This result indicates that donor RBCs may be damaged by the environment of SCD patients, increasing the physiologic clearance of apoptotic RBCs. In vivo, PS-RBC percentage increased in all three cases after destruction of transfused RBCs, indicating that DHTR induces PS-RBCs and, possibly, subsequent VOC and autologous RBC destruction.

Conclusion: This study clearly demonstrates that DHTR can occur in the absence of detectable antibody. In these cases, a mechanism of excessive eryptosis is proposed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anemia, Sickle Cell / blood
  • Anemia, Sickle Cell / immunology
  • Anemia, Sickle Cell / therapy*
  • Cell Death
  • Erythrocytes / cytology*
  • Erythrocytes / immunology
  • Female
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Hemolysis / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Phosphatidylserines / metabolism
  • Syndrome
  • Transfusion Reaction*
  • Young Adult


  • Phosphatidylserines