Hydroxyurea (HU) significantly increases fetal hemoglobin (Hb) production and concomitantly affects passive erythrocyte K transport and cell volume in patients homozygous for Hb S, thus decreasing disease severity. Red blood cells (RBCs) with Hb S display a greater adherence to vascular endothelial cells (VECs) than do Hb A cells, thus increasing the probability of vaso-occlusive crisis. The effect of HU on the structure and function of VECs is still unknown. In the present study, HU significantly changed, in a dose-dependent manner, the morphology and monovalent cation composition of cultured VECs after incubation in normal culture medium for up to 10 days in the absence and presence of 0.3 (therapeutic dose) and 3.0 (toxic dose) mmol/L HU. Treated cells showed significant morphologic changes such as an increase in apparent cell size and the formation of multinucleated giant cells. The protein content per dish decreased by 50% and 80% at 0.3 and 3.0 mmol/L HU, respectively, accompanied by an increase in cell Na (maximum, approximately 200%) and cell K (maximum, approximately 50%) contents at about days 4 to 6 and 8 to 10, respectively. In addition, HU decreased RBC adherence to VECs in experiments with 51Cr- loaded Hb A or Hb S RBCs. The HU-induced changes in VEC morphology, cation composition, and RBC adherence may be caused or accompanied by alterations in cell membrane permeability, transformation of endothelial cells, or decreased number/density of VEC adhesion molecules. Precise mechanisms of the HU effects warrant further investigation in light of the reported beneficial effects of HU in the treatment of sickle cell anemia.

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