BACKGROUND:Erythrocyte cell membranes undergo morphologic changes during storage, but it is unclear whether these changes are reversible. We assessed erythrocyte cell membrane deformability in patients before and after transfusion to determine the effects of storage duration and whether changes in deformability are reversible after transfusion.METHODS:Sixteen patients undergoing posterior spinal fusion surgery were studied. Erythrocyte deformability was compared between those who required moderate transfusion (≥5 units erythrocytes) and those who received minimal transfusion (0-4 units erythrocytes). Deformability was measured in samples drawn directly from the blood storage bags before transfusion and in samples drawn from patients before and after transfusion (over 3 postoperative days). In samples taken from the blood storage bags, we compared deformability of erythrocytes stored for a long duration (≥21 days), those stored for a shorter duration (<21 days), and cell-salvaged erythrocytes. Deformability was assessed quantitatively using the elongation index (EI) measured by ektacytometry, a method that determines the ability for the cell to elongate when exposed to shear stress.RESULTS:Erythrocyte deformability was significantly decreased from the preoperative baseline in patients after moderate transfusion (EI decreased by 12% ± 4% to 20% ± 6%; P = 0.03) but not after minimal transfusion (EI decreased by 3% ± 1% to 4% ± 1%; P = 0.68). These changes did not reverse over 3 postoperative days. Deformability was significantly less in erythrocytes stored for ≥21 days (EI = 0.28 ± 0.02) than in those stored for <21 days (EI = 0.33 ± 0.02; P = 0.001) or those drawn from patients preoperatively (EI = 0.33 ± 0.02; P = 0.001). Cell-salvaged erythrocytes had intermediate deformability (EI = 0.30 ± 0.03) that was greater than that of erythrocytes stored ≥21 days (P = 0.047), but less than that of erythrocytes stored <21 days (P = 0.03).CONCLUSIONS:The findings demonstrate that increased duration of erythrocyte storage is associated with decreased cell membrane deformability and that these changes are not readily reversible after transfusion.