Erythrocyte aging as a mechanism of anemia and a biomarker of device thrombosis in continuous-flow left ventricular assist devices.

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Blood trauma caused by continuous-flow left ventricular assist devices (CF-LVADs) has been associated with device thrombosis and anemia. Accurate in vivo quantification of erythrocyte turnover and its contribution to CF-LVAD complications have yet to be elucidated.


We investigated the age (lifespan) of circulating erythrocytes in subjects with CF-LVAD. Erythrocyte lifespan is a quantitative indicator of in vivo erythrocyte turnover that can be accurately derived from measurement of the exhaled carbon monoxide (CO) level. Sixty non-smoking subjects were prospectively enrolled: 25 had a CF-LVAD without thrombosis; 10 had a CF-LVAD with thrombosis; and 25 were normal controls. End-tidal breath CO levels were measured and used to calculate erythrocyte lifespan.


The mean erythrocyte lifespan was significantly shorter in CF-LVAD subjects with (29.7 ± 14.9 days) compared to those without (65.0 ± 17.3 days) device thrombosis (p < 0.0001). The lifespans in these 2 groups were significantly shorter compared with normal controls (96.0 ± 24.9 days, both p < 0.0001). A receiver operator curve demonstrated high sensitivity-specificity for use of erythrocyte lifespan to detect device thrombosis (AUC = 0.94). In addition, all CF-LVAD subjects had low hemoglobin (11.8 ± 2.0 g/dl), and their anemia was normochromic normocytic with elevated mean reticulocyte counts. Erythrocyte lifespan correlated significantly with mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration (r = 0.56, p = 0.0005) and red cell distribution width (r = -0.65, p < 0.001), but not with reticulocyte count (r = 0.27, p = 0.32).


Erythrocyte lifespan is substantially reduced in subjects with a CF-LVAD, which was more pronounced in the presence of device thrombosis. The etiology of anemia in CF-LVAD was primarily due to accelerated erythrocyte aging. Further studies are needed to determine whether erythrocyte lifespan could provide a practical means of detecting subtle pre-clinical thrombosis.

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