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Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol. 2015 Feb 15;308(4):L314-24. doi: 10.1152/ajplung.00252.2014. Epub 2014 Nov 14.

Vasculopathy and pulmonary hypertension in sickle cell disease.

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Pittsburgh Heart, Lung, Blood and Vascular Medicine Institute, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Division of Newborn Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and.
Pittsburgh Heart, Lung, Blood and Vascular Medicine Institute, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania


Sickle cell disease (SCD) is an autosomal recessive disorder in the gene encoding the β-chain of hemoglobin. Deoxygenation causes the mutant hemoglobin S to polymerize, resulting in rigid, adherent red blood cells that are entrapped in the microcirculation and hemolyze. Cardinal features include severe painful crises and episodic acute lung injury, called acute chest syndrome. This population, with age, develops chronic organ injury, such as chronic kidney disease and pulmonary hypertension. A major risk factor for developing chronic organ injury is hemolytic anemia, which releases red blood cell contents into the circulation. Cell free plasma hemoglobin, heme, and arginase 1 disrupt endothelial function, drive oxidative and inflammatory stress, and have recently been referred to as erythrocyte damage-associated molecular pattern molecules (eDAMPs). Studies suggest that in addition to effects of cell free plasma hemoglobin on scavenging nitric oxide (NO) and generating reactive oxygen species (ROS), heme released from plasma hemoglobin can bind to the toll-like receptor 4 to activate the innate immune system. Persistent intravascular hemolysis over decades leads to chronic vasculopathy, with ∼10% of patients developing pulmonary hypertension. Progressive obstruction of small pulmonary arterioles, increase in pulmonary vascular resistance, decreased cardiac output, and eventual right heart failure causes death in many patients with this complication. This review provides an overview of the pathobiology of hemolysis-mediated endothelial dysfunction and eDAMPs and a summary of our present understanding of diagnosis and management of pulmonary hypertension in sickle cell disease, including a review of recent American Thoracic Society (ATS) consensus guidelines for risk stratification and management.


cell free hemoglobin; nitric oxide; pulmonary hypertension; sickle cell disease

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