Decrease in the bioavailability of vasoactive nitric oxide (NO), derived from the endothelial nitric oxide synthase (NOS3), underlines vascular endothelial damage. Our expanding knowledge on mature red blood cells (RBCs) makes it supposable that RBCs might contribute to vascular function and integrity via their active NO synthetizing system (RBC-NOS3). This “rescue” mechanism of RBCs could be especially important during pregnancy with smoking habit, when smoking acts as an additional stressor and causes active change in the redox status. In this study RBC populations of 82 non-smoking (RBC-NS) and 75 smoking (RBC-S) pregnant women were examined. Morphological variants were followed by confocal microscopy and quantified by a microscopy based intelligent analysis software. Fluorescence activated cell sorting was used to examine the translational and posttranslational regulation of RBC-NOS, Arginase-1 and the formation of the major product of lipid peroxidation, 4-hydroxy-2-nonenal. To survey the rheological parameters of RBCs like elasticity and plasticity atomic force microscopy-based measurement was applied. Significant morphological and functional differences of RBCs were found between the non-smoking and smoking groups. The phenotypic variations in RBC-S population, even the characteristic biconcave disc-shaped cells, could be connected to impaired NOS3 activation and are compromised in their physiological properties. Membrane lipid studies reveal an elevated lipid oxidation state well paralleled with the changed elastic and plastic activities. These features can form a basic tool in the prenatal health screening conditions; hence the compensatory mechanism of RBC-S population completely fails to sense and rescue the acute oxidative stress conditions.
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