To understand the relationship between deoxygenation rate, rheologic behavior, and red blood cell (RBC) morphologic characteristics of blood in sickle (SS) cell anemia, washed oxy SS RBC suspensions (hematocrit, 40%) were subjected to relatively fast and gradual deoxygenation procedures. Relatively fast deoxygenation resulted in 50% decline in percent hemoglobin oxygen saturation (%HbO2) within 1 minute. The SS suspensions following relatively fast deoxygenation showed two distinct phases in viscosity profiles. First, there was a sharp increase in individual viscosities to a peak value at 7 minutes of deoxygenation. Second, prolonged deoxygenation resulted in a 27% to 37% decrease in individual viscosities at 30 minutes as compared with the respective peak values at 7 minutes. Most of the viscosity increase (ie, about fourfold) occurred within the first 3 minutes of relatively fast deoxygenation. Scanning electron microscopy and differential morphologic analysis of deoxy cells showed that at 7 minutes a majority of cells had a granular appearance that was characterized by a bumpy irregular surface and the presence of small spicule-like projections. Prolonged deoxygenation resulted in the appearance of a large percentage of elongated cells that were unlike typical sickle cells. Transmission electron microscopy showed that the elongated shape resulted from the alignment of HbS polymers into long projections. In contrast, gradual deoxygenation over a period of 30 minutes resulted in a progressive increase in viscosity and in the formation of typical sickle shapes and holly leaf cells. The results show that at matching %HbO2, the SS suspensions containing mainly granular shaped cells after 7 minutes of relatively fast deoxygenation are as viscous as the gradually deoxygenated suspensions that contain classic sickle shapes and holly leaf forms, while the suspensions having a large percentage of elongated cells (30 minutes after relatively fast deoxygenation) are the least viscous. The two distinct time-dependent viscosity phases observed after relatively fast deoxygenation probably result from differences in the RBC shape characteristics reflecting physical attributes of the polymer, which could affect cell orientation in the viscometric flow.