Sickle cell anemia (SCA) is characterized by decreased red blood cell (RBC) deformability due to polymerization of deoxygenated hemoglobin, leading to abnormal mechanical properties of RBC, increased cellular adhesion, and microcirculatory obstruction. Prior work has demonstrated that NO• influences RBC hydration and deformability and is produced at a basal rate that increases under shear stress in normal RBC. Nevertheless, the origin and physiological relevance of nitric oxide (NO•) production and scavenging in RBC remains unclear. We aimed to assess the basal and shear-mediated production of NO• in RBC from SCA patients and control (CTRL) subjects. RBCs loaded with a fluorescent NO• detector, DAF-FM (4-Amino-5-methylamino- 2′,7′-difluorofluorescein diacetate), were imaged in microflow channels over 30-minutes without shear stress, followed by a 30-minute period under 0.5Pa shear stress. We utilized non-specific nitric oxide synthase (NOS) blockade and carbon monoxide (CO) saturation of hemoglobin to assess the contribution of NOS and hemoglobin, respectively, to NO• production. Quantification of DAF-FM fluorescence intensity in individual RBC showed an increase in NO• in SCA RBC at the start of the basal period; however, both SCA and CTRL RBC increased NO• by a similar quantity under shear. A subpopulation of sickle-shaped RBC exhibited lower basal NO• production compared to discoid RBC from SCA group, and under shear became more circular in the direction of shear when compared to discoid RBC from SCA and CTRL, which elongated. Both CO and NOS inhibition caused a decrease in basal NO• production. Shear-mediated NO• production was decreased by CO in all RBC, but was decreased by NOS blockade only in SCA. In conclusion, total NO• production is increased and shear-mediated NO• production is preserved in SCA RBC in a NOS-dependent manner. Sickle shaped RBC with inclusions have higher NO• production and they become more circular rather than elongated with shear.
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