Effect of red blood cell transfusion on inflammation, endothelial cell activation and coagulation in the critically ill

Lisa van Manen*, Maike E. van Hezel, Margit Boshuizen, Marleen Straat, Angelique M. E. de Man, Charlotte Dekimpe, Karen Vanhoorelbeke, Robin van Bruggen, Nicole P. Juffermans

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background and Objectives: Red blood cell (RBC) transfusion is a frequently applied intervention in an intensive care unit. However, transfusion is associated with adverse outcomes including organ failure and thrombo-embolic events. Mechanisms of these effects are not known but may be related to activation of the endothelium or of the coagulation or inflammatory system. We hypothesized that a RBC transfusion in the critically ill would result in further activation of these systems. Materials and Methods: In 74 non-bleeding critically ill patients receiving one RBC unit, markers of inflammation, endothelial cell activation and coagulation were measured before transfusion, at 1 h after transfusion and 24 h after transfusion. The impact of disease severity of the recipient on these changes was assessed by comparing septic and non-septic patients (according to sepsis-3 definition) and by correlation of biomarkers with the sequential organ failure assessment (SOFA) score. Results: Levels of von Willebrand Factor (vWF), soluble ICAM-1, soluble thrombomodulin, fibrinogen and d-dimer were already high at baseline, whereas ADAMTS13 levels were low. VWF levels increased significantly 24 h after RBC transfusion (median 478% (338–597) vs. 526% (395–623), p = 0.009). The other biomarkers did not change significantly. Post transfusion change was not dependent on the presence of sepsis and was not correlated with SOFA score. Conclusion: RBC transfusion in critically ill patients was associated with an increase in circulating vWF levels, suggesting a further increase in activation of the endothelium, a finding that was independent of the presence of sepsis or organ injury level.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)64-70
Number of pages7
JournalVox Sanguinis
Issue number1
Early online date2021
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2022

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