The pathophysiology of extracellular hemoglobin associated with enhanced oxidative reactions

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

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Hemoglobin (Hb) continuously undergoes autoxidation producing superoxide which dismutates into hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) and is a potential source for subsequent oxidative reactions. Autoxidation is most pronounced under hypoxic conditions in the microcirculation and for unstable dimers formed at reduced Hb concentrations. In the red blood cell (RBC), oxidative reactions are inhibited by an extensive antioxidant system. For extracellular Hb, whether from hemolysis of RBCs and/or the infusion of Hb-based blood substitutes, the oxidative reactions are not completely neutralized by the available antioxidant system. Un-neutralized H2O2 oxidizes ferrous and ferric Hbs to Fe(IV)-ferrylHb and OxyferrylHb, respectively. FerrylHb further reacts with H2O2 producing heme degradation products and free iron. OxyferrylHb, in addition to Fe(IV) contains a free radical that can undergo additional oxidative reactions. Fe(III)Hb produced during Hb autoxidation also readily releases heme, an additional source for oxidative stress. These oxidation products are a potential source for oxidative reactions in the plasma, but to a greater extent when the lower molecular weight Hb dimers are taken up into cells and tissues. Heme and oxyferryl have been shown to have a proinflammatory effect further increasing their potential for oxidative stress. These oxidative reactions contribute to a number of pathological situations including atherosclerosis, kidney malfunction, sickle cell disease, and malaria. The toxic effects of extracellular Hb are of particular concern with hemolytic anemia where there is an increase in hemolysis. Hemolysis is further exacerbated in various diseases and their treatments. Blood transfusions are required whenever there is an appreciable decrease in RBCs due to hemolysis or blood loss. It is, therefore, essential that the transfused blood, whether stored RBCs or the blood obtained by an Autologous Blood Recovery System from the patient, do not further increase extracellular Hb.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number500
JournalFrontiers in Physiology
Issue numberJAN
StatePublished - 2015


  • Extracellular hemoglobin
  • Fe(IV)hemoglobins
  • Heme
  • Hemoglobin autoxidation
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Oxidative reactions
  • proinflammatory reactions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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