Background: Hypothermic storage of red blood cells (RBCs) results in progressive deterioration of the rheological properties of the cells, which may reduce the efficacy of RBC transfusions. Recent studies have suggested that storing RBC units under anaerobic conditions may reduce this storage-induced deterioration.
Materials and methods: The aim of this study was to compare the rheological properties of conventionally and anaerobically stored RBC and provide a measure of the relationship between oxidative damage to stored RBC and their ability to perfuse microvascular networks. Three different microfluidic devices were used to measure the ability of both types of stored RBC to perfuse artificial microvascular networks. Flow rates of the RBC passing through the entire network (bulk perfusion) and the individual capillaries (capillary perfusion) of the devices were measured on days 2, 21, 42, and 63 of storage.
Results: The bulk perfusion rates for anaerobically stored RBC were significantly higher than for conventionally stored RBCs over the entire duration of storage for all devices (up to 10% on day 42; up to 14% on day 63). Capillary perfusion rates suggested that anaerobically stored RBC units contained significantly fewer non-deformable RBC capable of transiently plugging microfluidic device capillaries. The number of plugging events caused by these non-deformable RBC increased over the 63 days of hypothermic storage by nearly 16- to 21-fold for conventionally stored units, and by only about 3- to 6-fold for anaerobically stored units.
Discussion: The perfusion measurements suggest that anaerobically stored RBC retain a greater ability to perfuse networks of artificial capillaries compared to conventionally (aerobically) stored RBC. It is likely that anaerobic storage confers this positive effect on the bulk mechanical properties of stored RBC by significantly reducing the number of non-deformable cells present in the overall population of relatively well-preserved RBC.