Stored red blood cells undergo numerous biochemical, structural, and functional changes, commonly referred to as storage lesion. How much these changes impede the ability of erythrocytes to perform their function and, as result, impact clinical outcomes in transfusion patients is unknown. In this study we investigate the effect of the storage on the erythrocyte membrane deformability and morphology. Using optical interferometry we imaged red blood cell (RBC) topography with nanometer sensitivity. Our time-lapse imaging quantifies membrane fluctuations at the nanometer scale, which in turn report on cell stiffness. This property directly impacts the cell's ability to transport oxygen in microvasculature. Interestingly, we found that cells which apparently maintain their normal shape (discocyte) throughout the storage period, stiffen progressively with storage time. By contrast, static parameters, such as mean cell hemoglobin content and morphology do not change during the same period. We propose that our method can be used as an effective assay for monitoring erythrocyte functionality during storage time.
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