Measurements of red blood cell (RBC) deformability and aggregation can be subject to influence by pre-analytical handling procedures, with the degree of hemoglobin oxygenation having the potential to affect the results. To examine such effects, RBC deformability and aggregation were studied before and after oxygenation or deoxygenation of human blood samples. RBC deformability was assessed using a laser-diffraction ektacytometer having Couette geometry. RBC aggregation was assessed using the same system by monitoring light backscattering after a sudden cessation of high shear; aggregation was also measured by monitoring light transmittance through RBC suspensions. RBC deformability was found to be significantly increased after equilibrating RBC with ambient air (pO(2): 142.0 +/- 3.1 mmHg) compared to the non-oxygenated sample (pO(2): 42.4 +/- 1.8 mmHg). In contrast, equilibration with 100% nitrogen resulted in significant impairment in RBC deformability. RBC aggregation parameters were also affected by oxygenation if measured based on light backscattering, but not if measured using light transmittance. It is thus recommended that blood samples be oxygenated by repeated exposure to ambient air prior to the measurement of hemorheological parameters.