Loading red blood cells with trehalose: A step towards biostabilization

Gyana R. Satpathy, Zsolt Török, Rachna Bali, Denis M Dwyre, Erika Little, Naomi J. Walker, Fern Tablin, John H. Crowe, Nelly M. Tsvetkova

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

104 Scopus citations


A method for freeze-drying red blood cells (RBCs) while maintaining a high degree of viability has important implications in blood transfusion and clinical medicine. The disaccharide trehalose, found in animals capable of surviving dehydration can aid in this process. As a first step toward RBC preservation, we present a method for loading RBCs with trehalose. The method is based on the thermal properties of the RBC plasma membranes and provides efficient uptake of the sugar at 37°C in a time span of 7 h. The data show that RBCs can be loaded with trehalose from the extracellular medium through a combination of osmotic imbalance and the phospholipid phase transition, resulting in intracellular trehalose concentrations of about 40 mM. During the loading period, the levels of ATP and 2,3-DPG are maintained close to the levels of fresh RBCs. Increasing the membrane fluidity through the use of a benzyl alcohol results in a higher concentration of intracellular trehalose, suggesting the importance of the membrane physical state for the uptake of the sugar. Osmotic fragility data show that trehalose exerts osmotic protection on RBCs. Flow cytometry data demonstrate that incubation of RBCs in a hypertonic trehalose solution results in a fraction of cells with different complexity and that it can be removed by washing and resuspending the RBCs in an iso-osmotic medium. The data provide an important first step in long-term preservation of RBCs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)123-136
Number of pages14
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 2004


  • Flow cytometry
  • Fragility
  • Red blood cells
  • Separation
  • Stabilization
  • Trehalose

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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