Red blood cell oxidative stress impairs oxygen delivery and induces red blood cell aging

Joy G. Mohanty, Enika Nagababu, Joseph M. Rifkind

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

228 Scopus citations


Red Blood Cells (RBCs) need to deform and squeeze through narrow capillaries. Decreased deformability of RBCs is, therefore, one of the factors that can contribute to the elimination of aged or damaged RBCs from the circulation. This process can also cause impaired oxygen delivery, which contributes to the pathology of a number of diseases. Studies from our laboratory have shown that oxidative stress plays a significant role in damaging the RBC membrane and impairing its deformability. RBCs are continuously exposed to both endogenous and exogenous sources of reactive oxygen species (ROS) like superoxide and hydrogen peroxide (H2O2). The bulk of the ROS are neutralized by the RBC antioxidant system consisting of both non-enzymatic and enzymatic antioxidants including catalase, glutathione peroxidase and peroxiredoxin-2. However, the autoxidation of hemoglobin (Hb) bound to the membrane is relatively inaccessible to the predominantly cytosolic RBC antioxidant system. This inaccessibility becomes more pronounced under hypoxic conditions when Hb is partially oxygenated, resulting in an increased rate of autoxidation and increased affinity for the RBC membrane. We have shown that a fraction of peroxyredoxin-2 present on the RBC membrane may play a major role in neutralizing these ROS. H2O2 that is not neutralized by the RBC antioxidant system can react with the heme producing fluorescent heme degradation products (HDPs). We have used the level of these HDP as a measure of RBC oxidative Stress. Increased levels of HDP are detected during cellular aging and various diseases. The negative correlation (p < 0.0001) between the level of HDP and RBC deformability establishes a contribution of RBC oxidative stress to impaired deformability and cellular stiffness. While decreased deformability contributes to the removal of RBCs from the circulation, oxidative stress also contributes to the uptake of RBCs by macrophages, which plays a major role in the removal of RBCs from circulation. The contribution of oxidative stress to the removal of RBCs by macrophages involves caspase-3 activation, which requires oxidative stress. RBC oxidative stress, therefore, plays a significant role in inducing RBC aging.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberArticle 84
JournalFrontiers in Physiology
Volume5 FEB
StatePublished - 2014


  • Cellular aging
  • Deformability
  • Heme degradation
  • Oxidative stress
  • Red blood cells

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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