Effects of oxygen inhalation on endogenous erythropoietin kinetics, erythropoiesis, and properties of blood cells in sickle-cell anemia

N Engl J Med. 1984 Aug 2;311(5):291-5. doi: 10.1056/NEJM198408023110504.


The role of oxygen therapy in sickle-cell anemia is not established, and its effects on erythropoiesis and on the rheologic properties of sickled erythrocytes are controversial. When three patients with sickle-cell anemia who were not in crisis or infected breathed oxygen at a rate of 5 liters per minute continuously through nasal prongs for five days, there was a rapid decline in erythropoietin levels that had initially been elevated, a delayed fall in the number of reticulocytes, and a fall in the number of irreversibly sickled cells, which, in two of the subjects, preceded the suppression of reticulocytosis. After cessation of oxygen therapy, erythropoietin levels and the number of irreversibly sickled cells increased promptly, followed by an increase in the number of reticulocytes. Calculated erythropoietin half-lives were 1.51 to 2.92 hours, and clearances were 43 to 84 ml per minute during oxygen administration. These are normal values. In two subjects, the number of irreversibly sickled cells rose to exceed base-line values after oxygen therapy was discontinued, and both subjects had acute painful episodes at this time. We conclude that in patients with sickle-cell anemia, substantial changes in erythropoiesis and in the rheologic properties of blood occur in association with oxygen inhalation and that when oxygen therapy is administered to such patients, it should be given intermittently rather than continuously.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Anemia, Sickle Cell / blood*
  • Anemia, Sickle Cell / physiopathology
  • Anemia, Sickle Cell / therapy
  • Erythrocyte Count
  • Erythrocytes / physiology*
  • Erythrocytes, Abnormal / physiology
  • Erythropoiesis*
  • Erythropoietin / blood*
  • Humans
  • Kinetics
  • Leukocyte Count
  • Oxygen Inhalation Therapy*
  • Reticulocytes


  • Erythropoietin