The Na+/H+ antiport is stimulated by 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13, acetate (TPA) and other phorbol esters in rat thymic lymphocytes. Mediation by protein kinase C is suggested by three findings: (a) 1-oleoyl-2-acetylglycerol also activated the antiport; (b) trifluoperazine, an inhibitor of protein kinase C, blocked the stimulation of Na+/H+ exchange; and (c) activation of countertransport was accompanied by increased phosphorylation of specific membrane proteins. The Na+/H+ antiport is also activated by osmotic cell shrinking. The time course, extent, and reversibility of the osmotically induced and phorbol ester-induced responses are similar. Moreover, the responses are not additive and they are equally susceptible to inhibition by trifluoperazine, N-ethylmaleimide, and ATP depletion. The extensive analogies between the TPA and osmotically induced effects suggested a common underlying mechanism, possibly activation of a protein kinase. It is conceivable that osmotic shrinkage initiates the following sequence of events: stimulation of protein kinase(s) followed by activation of the Na+/H+ antiport, resulting in cytoplasmic alkalinization. The Na+ taken up through the antiport, together with the HCO3- and Cl- accumulated in the cells as a result of the cytoplasmic alkalinization, would be followed by osmotically obliged water. This series of events could underlie the phenomenon of regulatory volume increase.

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