A study of passive potassium efflux from human red blood cells using ion-specific electrodes
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Using ion-specific electrodes, the potassium leakage induced by ouabain in human erythrocytes can be measured continuously and precisely near physiological conditions. Upon small additions of isotonic sucrose solution to a suspension of red cells in physiological saline the passive potassium efflux increases proportionally to the chloride ratio. The same result is obtained upon addition of hypertonic sucrose solution, suggesting that neither osmolarity nor intracellular concentrations have any influence on the passive potassium efflux. The independence of the potassium efflux and osmolarity can be verified by addition of a penetrating substance like glucose to the cell suspension. Adding water or hypertonic sodium chloride solution shows that the potassium efflux increases slightly in more concentrated salt solutions. Inasmuch as it can be interpreted as a pure ionic strength effect, this result supports the hypothesis of independence of potassium efflux and intracellular concentrations. The results of this investigation together with other studies show that the passive permeability of the human red blood cell to potassium depends uniquely on the membrane potential near physiological conditions, while it depends on parameters such as pH or concentrations for large membrane potentials. This suggests that two different mechanisms of transport might be involved: one would control the permeability under normal conditions; the other would represent a leak through the route normally used by anions and become important only under extreme conditions.
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