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Blood transfusion increases radical promoting non-transferrin bound iron in preterm infants
  1. K Hirano,
  2. T Morinobu,
  3. H Kim,
  4. M Hiroi,
  5. R Ban,
  6. S Ogawa,
  7. H Ogihara,
  8. H Tamai,
  9. T Ogihara
  1. Department of Pediatrics, Division of Neonatology, Osaka Medical College, Osaka, Japan
  1. Dr Ogihara, Department of Pediatrics, Osaka Medical College, 2–7, Daigaku-machi, Takatsuki, Osaka 569-8686, Japanped025{at}


BACKGROUND Blood transfusion has been recognised as a risk factor for the development of retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) or chronic lung disease (CLD) in preterm infants, but the precise mechanism involved is not understood.

AIM To investigate the level of non-transferrin bound “free” iron, which has the potential to promote the generation of reactive oxygen species, and its redox status in the plasma of preterm infants immediately before and after blood transfusion.

METHODS Twenty one preterm infants with a median gestational age and birth weight of 27 weeks and 1021 g respectively were prospectively enrolled in the study. Sixteen of the 21 infants developed ROP and/or CLD. The infants were transfused with concentrated red blood cells at a median age of 32 days. The plasma concentration of total bleomycin detectable iron (BDI) was measured and also the ferrous iron (Fe2+) activity by bleomycin-iron complex dependent degradation of DNA.

RESULTS Even before blood transfusion, BDI was detectable in one third of the blood samples, and all but one sample had ferrous iron activity. After transfusion, both BDI and ferrous iron activity were significantly increased, in contrast with the situation in full term infants. Plasma ascorbic acid (AA) concentration was significantly decreased after blood transfusion, whereas the level of its oxidation product, dehydroascorbic acid (DHAA), and the DHAA/AA ratio were significantly increased compared with before the transfusion. The activity of plasma ferroxidase, which converts iron from the ferrous to the ferric state, was appreciably decreased in preterm infants, as expected from their very low plasma caeruloplasmin concentration.

CONCLUSIONS Plasma non-transferrin bound iron was significantly increased in preterm infants after blood transfusion and existed partly in the ferrous form, because of the low ferroxidase activity and the reduction of ferric iron (Fe3+) by ascorbic acid. This finding was specific to preterm infants and was not observed in full term infants after blood transfusion. Non-transferrin bound “free” iron may catalyse the generation of reactive oxygen species, which may be responsible for the clinical association of blood transfusion with ROP and CLD.

Key messages

Key messages

  • Plasma non-transferrin bound iron was significantly increased in preterm infants after blood transfusion and existed partly in the ferrous pro-oxidant form

  • The increase in plasma non-transferrin bound iron after blood transfusion was not observed in full term infants

  • retinopathy of prematurity
  • chronic lung disease
  • iron
  • ascorbic acid
  • blood transfusion
  • preterm

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