In this study we attempt to establish the consequence of in vitro hydrogen peroxide (H2O2)-induced membrane damage as manifested by spectrin-hemoglobin (Sp-Hb) complex formation and decreased red blood cell (RBC) deformability to in vivo RBC survival in baboons. After exposure to 135 to 581 mumols/L H2O2 and reduction with dithiothreitol (DTE), baboon RBCs were infused into the animal, and the fraction of cells remaining in circulation after 24 hours and the lifespan of surviving cells were quantitated. In a dose-dependent fashion, a positive correlation was observed between in vitro membrane alterations and the 24-hour in vivo survival. While 12% of the control cells were removed from circulation in 24 hours, 23% were removed after treatment with 339 mumols/L H2O2, and 36% following exposure to 581 mumols/L H2O2. Pretreatment with carbon monoxide before exposure with H2O2 increased the survival of oxidized RBCs. RBCs not removed from circulation in the first 24 hours had a normal lifespan. Moreover, by selectively isolating biotin-labeled, peroxide-treated cells that survived the first 24-hour posttransfusion period, a significant decrease in Sp-Hb crosslinking was observed in these cells. These results suggest that a subpopulation of cells sensitive to oxidation were removed during the first 24 hours. To identify this population, the survival of density-fractionated RBCs exposed to oxidant stress was quantitated. No differences in either the 24-hour survival or RBC life span were observed between untreated low-density (MCHC less than or equal to 32g/dL) and high-density cells (MCHC greater than or equal to 37g/dL). However, striking differences were noted after treatment with 339 mumols/L H2O2, with the 24-hour survival of high-density cells showing a marked decrease compared with low-density cells. These data support our hypothesis that during peroxidative membrane damage, Hb oxidation initiates a sequence of events resulting in skeletal changes that lead to membrane alterations and, eventually, in vivo destruction, and that the dense, dehydrated cells are more susceptible to oxidant damage.