Patients with sickle cell anemia (SCD) and pulmonary hypertension (PH) have a significantly increased risk of sudden death compared to patients with SCD alone. Sickled red blood cells (RBCs) are stiffer, more dense, more frequently undergo hemolysis, and have a sixfold shorter lifespan compared to normal RBCs. Here, we sought to investigate the impact of increased RBC stiffness, independent of other SCD-related biological and mechanical RBC abnormalities, on the hemodynamic changes that ultimately cause PH and increase mortality in SCD. To do so, pulmonary vascular impedance (PVZ) measures were recorded in control C57BL6 mice before and after ∼50 μl of blood (Hct = 45%) was extracted and replaced with an equal volume of blood containing either untreated RBCs or RBCs chemically stiffened with glutaraldehyde (Hct = 45%). Chemically stiffened RBCs increased mean pulmonary artery pressure (mPAP) (13.5 ± 0.6 mmHg at baseline to 23.2 ± 0.7 mmHg after the third injection), pulmonary vascular resistance (PVR) (1.23 ± 0.11 mmHg*min/ml at baseline to 2.24 ± 0.14 mmHg*min/ml after the third injection), and wave reflections (0.31 ± 0.02 at baseline to 0.43 ± 0.03 after the third injection). Chemically stiffened RBCs also decreased cardiac output, but did not change hematocrit, blood viscosity, pulmonary arterial compliance, or heart rate. The main finding of this study is that increased RBC stiffness alone affects pulmonary pulsatile hemodynamics, which suggests that RBC stiffness plays an important role in the development of PH in patients with SCD.

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