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Biochim Biophys Acta. 2009 Jul;1790(7):694-701. doi: 10.1016/j.bbagen.2008.09.010. Epub 2008 Oct 18.

Iron overload following red blood cell transfusion and its impact on disease severity.

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  • 1Department of Pediatrics, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC 27710, USA.


Transfusion of red blood cells can be a life-saving therapy both for patients with chronic anemias and for those who are critically ill with acute blood loss. However, transfusion has been associated with significant morbidity. Chronic transfusion results in accumulation of excess iron that surpasses the binding capacity of the major iron transport protein, transferrin. The resulting non-transferrin bound iron (NTBI) can catalyze the production of highly reactive oxygen species (ROS) leading to significant and wide spread injury to the liver, heart, and endocrine organs as well as increases in infection. Acute transfusion of red blood cells in critically ill patients likewise has significant effects including increased mortality, prolonged hospital stays, and elevated risk of nosocomial infection. These effects appear to be more profound with increasing age of stored blood. The progressive release of free iron associated with storage time suggests that morbidity following acute transfusion, like that seen in chronic transfusion, may be due in part to elevated levels of NTBI. It is clear that transfusion is necessary in many instances; however, its risks and benefits must be carefully balanced before proceeding to avoid unnecessary iron toxicity.

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