Factors That Affect Oxygen Binding


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The micrograph shows a smear of red blood cells, some are disc-shaped and compressed in the center, whereas some are crescent-shaped. Each red blood cell is about five microns across.
Individuals with sickle cell anemia have crescent-shaped red blood cells. (credit: modification of work by Ed Uthman; scale-bar data from Matt Russell)

OpenStax Biology 2e

The oxygen-carrying capacity of hemoglobin determines how much oxygen is carried in the blood. In addition to PO2PO2, other environmental factors and diseases can affect oxygen carrying capacity and delivery.

Carbon dioxide levels, blood pH, and body temperature affect oxygen-carrying capacity. When carbon dioxide is in the blood, it reacts with water to form bicarbonate (HCO−3)(HCO3−) and hydrogen ions (H+). As the level of carbon dioxide in the blood increases, more H+ is produced and the pH decreases. This increase in carbon dioxide and subsequent decrease in pH reduce the affinity of hemoglobin for oxygen. The oxygen dissociates from the Hb molecule, shifting the oxygen dissociation curve to the right. Therefore, more oxygen is needed to reach the same hemoglobin saturation level as when the pH was higher. A similar shift in the curve also results from an increase in body temperature. Increased temperature, such as from increased activity of skeletal muscle, causes the affinity of hemoglobin for oxygen to be reduced.

Diseases like sickle cell anemia and thalassemia decrease the blood’s ability to deliver oxygen to tissues and its oxygen-carrying capacity. In sickle cell anemia, the shape of the red blood cell is crescent-shaped, elongated, and stiffened, reducing its ability to deliver oxygen. In this form, red blood cells cannot pass through the capillaries. This is painful when it occurs. Thalassemia is a rare genetic disease caused by a defect in either the alpha or the beta subunit of Hb. Patients with thalassemia produce a high number of red blood cells, but these cells have lower-than-normal levels of hemoglobin. Therefore, the oxygen-carrying capacity is diminished.


Clark, M., Douglas, M., Choi, J. Biology 2e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/details/books/biology-2e