Chloride-dependent K transport ([K-Cl] cotransport) in dog red cells is activated by cell swelling. Whether the volume signal is generated by a change in cell configuration or by the dilution of some cytosolic constituent is not known. To differentiate between these two alternatives we prepared resealed ghosts that, compared with intact red cells, had the same surface area and similar hemoglobin concentration, but a greatly diminished volume. Swelling-induced [K-Cl] cotransport was activated in the ghosts at a volume (20 fl) well below the activation volume for intact cells (70 fl), but at a similar hemoglobin concentration (30-35 g dry solids per 100 g wet weight). Ghosts made to contain 40% albumin and 60% hemoglobin showed activation of [K-Cl] cotransport at a concentration of cell solids similar to intact cells or ghosts containing only hemoglobin. [K-Cl] cotransport in the resealed ghosts became quiescent at a dry solid concentration close to that at which shrinkage-induced Na/H exchange became activated. These results support the notion that the primary volume sensor in dog red cells is cytosolic protein concentration. We speculate that macromolecular crowding is the mechanism by which cells initiate responses to volume perturbation.

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