Background: Intravascular red cell hemolysis impairs nitric oxide (NO)-redox homeostasis, producing endothelial dysfunction, platelet activation, and vasculopathy. Red blood cell storage under standard conditions results in reduced integrity of the erythrocyte membrane, with formation of exocytic microvesicles or microparticles and hemolysis, which we hypothesized could impair vascular function and contribute to the putative storage lesion of banked blood.
Methods and results: We now find that storage of human red blood cells under standard blood banking conditions results in the accumulation of cell-free and microparticle-encapsulated hemoglobin, which, despite 39 days of storage, remains in the reduced ferrous oxyhemoglobin redox state and stoichiometrically reacts with and scavenges the vasodilator NO. Using stopped-flow spectroscopy and laser-triggered NO release from a caged NO compound, we found that both free hemoglobin and microparticles react with NO about 1000 times faster than with intact erythrocytes. In complementary in vivo studies, we show that hemoglobin, even at concentrations below 10 μmol/L (in heme), produces potent vasoconstriction when infused into the rat circulation, whereas controlled infusions of methemoglobin and cyanomethemoglobin, which do not consume NO, have substantially reduced vasoconstrictor effects. Infusion of the plasma from stored human red blood cell units into the rat circulation produces significant vasoconstriction related to the magnitude of storage-related hemolysis.
Conclusions: The results of these studies suggest new mechanisms for endothelial injury and impaired vascular function associated with the most fundamental of storage lesions, hemolysis.