Addition of serum to density-arrested BALB/c-3T3 cells causes a rapid increase in uptake of Na+ and K+, followed 12 h later by the onset of DNA synthesis. We explored the role of intracellular univalent cation concentrations in the regulation of BALB/c-3T3 cell growth by serum growth factors. As cells grew to confluence, intracellular Na+ and K+ concentrations ([Na+]i and [K+]i) fell from 40 and 180 to 15 and 90 mmol/liter, respectively. Stimulation of growth of density-inhibited cells by the addition of serum growth factors increased [Na]i by 30% and [K+]i by 13-25% in early G0/G1, resulting in an increase in total univalent cation concentration. Addition of ouabain to stimulated cells resulted in a concentration-dependent steady decrease in [K+]i and increase in [Na+]i. Ouabain (100 microM) decreased [K+]i to approximately 60 mmol/liter by 12 h, and also prevented the serum-stimulated increase in 86Rb+ uptake. However, 100 microM ouabain did not inhibit DNA synthesis. A time-course experiment was done to determine the effect of 100 microM ouabain on [K+]i throughout G0/G1 and S phase. The addition of serum growth factors to density-inhibited cells stimulated equal rates of entry into the S phase in the presence or absence of 100 microM ouabain. However, in the presence of ouabain, there was a decrease in [K+]i. Therefore, an increase in [K+]i is not required for entry into S phase; serum growth factors do not regulate cell growth by altering [K+]i. The significance of increased total univalent cation concentration is discussed.

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