Red blood cells (RBCs) are a specialised organ that enabled the evolution of multicellular organisms by supplying a sufficient quantity of oxygen to cells that cannot obtain oxygen directly from ambient air via diffusion, thereby fueling oxidative phosphorylation for highly efficient energy production. RBCs have evolved to optimally serve this purpose by packing high concentrations of haemoglobin in their cytosol and shedding nuclei and other organelles. During their circulatory lifetimes in humans of approximately 120 days, RBCs are poised to transport oxygen by metabolic/redox enzymes until they accumulate damage and are promptly removed by the reticuloendothelial system. These elaborate evolutionary adaptions, however, are no longer effective when RBCs are removed from the circulation and stored hypothermically in blood banks, where they develop storage-induced damages ("storage lesions") that accumulate over the shelf life of stored RBCs. This review attempts to provide a comprehensive view of the literature on the subject of RBC storage lesions and their purported clinical consequences by incorporating the recent exponential growth in available data obtained from "omics" technologies in addition to that published in more traditional literature. To summarise this vast amount of information, the subject is organised in figures with four panels: i) root causes; ii) RBC storage lesions; iii) physiological effects; and iv) reported outcomes. The driving forces for the development of the storage lesions can be roughly classified into two root causes: i) metabolite accumulation/depletion, the target of various interventions (additive solutions) developed since the inception of blood banking; and ii) oxidative damages, which have been reported for decades but not addressed systemically until recently. Downstream physiological consequences of these storage lesions, derived mainly by in vitro studies, are described, and further potential links to clinical consequences are discussed. Interventions to postpone the onset and mitigate the extent of the storage lesion development are briefly reviewed. In addition, we briefly discuss the results from recent randomised controlled trials on the age of stored blood and clinical outcomes of transfusion.
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