Two nonpermeant cryoprotectants, the disaccharide trehalose and the polymeric carbohydrate (dextran, 40 kDa), were assessed as substitutes for glycerol in the cryopreservation of human red blood cells (RBC). The agents were evaluated by measuring the percentage of RBC recovery (total of free hemoglobin after freezing) and by evaluating the erythrocyte state after freezing. Ninety percent of the red cells were recovered after freezing in 30% (w/v) dextran in liquid nitrogen, which is very close to the recovery obtained in 35. 5% (w/v) glycerol (92%). The activities of pyruvate kinase and glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase of RBCs frozen and thawed with dextran were not modified, and the 2,3-diphosphoglycerate was reduced by 26%, but remained within normal values. ATP was reduced by 56%. The erythrocyte membrane integrity, evaluated by its osmotic fragility, was not altered, and the RBCs protected by dextran retained their normal discoid shape without the formation of microvesicles. The 24-h hemolysis of the washed red cells after storage at 4 degrees C was 7%. These results suggest that dextran protects red blood cells during freezing in liquid nitrogen, but that some effort is still needed to limit the drop of ATP concentration. One of the main advantages of dextran is that it does not penetrate the RBCs and requires less washing than glycerol.