Red Blood Cell Function and Dysfunction: Redox Regulation, Nitric Oxide Metabolism, Anemia

Antioxid Redox Signal. 2017 May 1;26(13):718-742. doi: 10.1089/ars.2016.6954. Epub 2017 Jan 18.


Significance: Recent clinical evidence identified anemia to be correlated with severe complications of cardiovascular disease (CVD) such as bleeding, thromboembolic events, stroke, hypertension, arrhythmias, and inflammation, particularly in elderly patients. The underlying mechanisms of these complications are largely unidentified. Recent Advances: Previously, red blood cells (RBCs) were considered exclusively as transporters of oxygen and nutrients to the tissues. More recent experimental evidence indicates that RBCs are important interorgan communication systems with additional functions, including participation in control of systemic nitric oxide metabolism, redox regulation, blood rheology, and viscosity. In this article, we aim to revise and discuss the potential impact of these noncanonical functions of RBCs and their dysfunction in the cardiovascular system and in anemia.

Critical issues: The mechanistic links between changes of RBC functional properties and cardiovascular complications related to anemia have not been untangled so far.

Future directions: To allow a better understanding of the complications associated with anemia in CVD, basic and translational science studies should be focused on identifying the role of noncanonical functions of RBCs in the cardiovascular system and on defining intrinsic and/or systemic dysfunction of RBCs in anemia and its relationship to CVD both in animal models and clinical settings. Antioxid. Redox Signal. 26, 718-742.

Keywords: RBC deformability; anemia; cardiovascular disease; hemolysis; nitric oxide; red blood cells; red cell eNOS.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anemia / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Erythrocytes / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Nitric Oxide / metabolism*
  • Oxidation-Reduction


  • Nitric Oxide