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Pharmacol Ther. 1982;18(2):271-92.

Calcium ions, drug action and the red cell membrane.


Intracellular calcium regulates a number of membrane functions in the erythrocyte, including control of shape, membrane lipid composition and cation permeability. Measurement of total red cell calcium has yielded values between 5 and 15 nmol/ml cells, and these low values in part reflect the absence of Ca2+ -containing organelles. Most intracellular Ca2+ is bound and the low cell ionized Ca2+ concentration (approximately 0.2 microM) is maintained by a combination of low membrane permeability and a powerful Ca2+ -pump. This pump has been identified with a (Ca2+ + Mg2+)-stimulated ATPase, and both Ca2+ transport and ATP splitting are stimulated by calmodulin, a low molecular weight protein which binds Ca2+ avidly and activates many Ca2+ -dependent enzymes. Both high and low affinity kinetics for Ca2+ pumping have been demonstrated, depending on the extent of binding of calmodulin to the pump. A stoichiometry of either 1 or 2 Ca2+ ions pumped per ATP molecule split has been shown, and the value may vary with the level of intracellular Ca2+. Phenothiazines, such as chlorpromazine inhibit the Ca2+ -pump by antagonizing the increment in activity produced by calmodulin. The passive inward leak of Ca2+ into erythrocytes can be quantitated by 45Ca2+ uptake into red cells whose Ca2+ -pump has been inhibited. Estimates of the Ca2+ permeability, based on unidirectional influx, yield values many orders of magnitude lower than for nucleated cells. Influx of Ca2+ into human erythrocytes occurs by a facilitated diffusion process, which can be inhibited by phenothiazines and the cinchona alkaloids. Calcium affects many membrane functions including cation permeability, lipid composition and some cytoskeletal interactions which may determine cell shape. Any rise in intracellular Ca2+ activates a specific K+ channel which normally makes little contribution to K+ fluxes. Kinetic studies of this process demonstrate either high or low affinity Ca2+ -activation of K+ efflux, with low affinity of the channel to Ca2+ being the probable state in vivo. Propranolol is the best known activator of Ca2+ -stimulated K+ efflux, although the mechanism of stimulation is unclear. Like other tissues, red cells possess a Ca2+ -activated phosphoinositol phosphodiesterase. Although it has been suggested that the echinocytic shape change induced by Ca2+ is due to the hydrolysis of polyphosphoinositides, it seems more likely that this shape change results from an effect of Ca2+ on the macromolecular interactions of the cytoskeleton. Abnormal Ca2+ permeability may contribute to red cell destruction in a variety of diseases. For example, in sickle cell anemia a large Ca2+ influx occurs when cells are sickled under deoxy conditions, and moreover, the ability of the Ca2+ -pump to extrude the increment of cell Ca2+ is impaired. Thus, red cell Ca2+ is increased 3-7-fold above normal and this may contribute to the short survival of sickle red cells...

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