One of the modes of action of the red blood cell anion transport protein is the electrically silent net exchange of 1 Cl- for 1 SO4= and 1 H+. Net SO4(=)-Cl- exchange is accelerated by low pH or by conversion of the side chain of glutamate 681 into an alcohol by treatment of intact cells with Woodward's reagent K (WRK) and BH4-. The studies described here were performed to characterize the electrical properties of net SO4(=)-Cl- exchange in cells modified with WRK/BH4-. The SO4= conductance measured in 100 mM SO4= medium is smaller in modified cells than in control cells. However, the efflux of [35S] SO4= into a 150-mM KCl medium is 80-fold larger in modified cells than in control cells and is inhibited 99% by 10 microM H2DIDS. No detectable H+ flux is associated with SO4(=)-Cl- exchange in modified cells. In the presence of gramicidin to increase the cation permeability, the stoichiometry of SO4(=)-Cl- exchange is not distinguishable from 1:1. In modified cells loaded with SO4=, the valinomycin-mediated efflux of 86Rb+ into an Na-gluconate medium is immediately stimulated by the addition of 5 mM extracellular Cl-. Therefore, SO4(=)-Cl- exchange in modified cells causes an outward movement of negative charge, as expected for an obligatory 1:1 SO4(=)-Cl- exchange. This is the first example of an obligatory, electrogenic exchange process in band 3 and demonstrates that the coupling between influx and efflux does not require that the overall exchange be electrically neutral. The effects of membrane potential on SO4(=)-SO4= exchange and SO4(=)-Cl- exchange in modified cells are consistent with a model in which nearly a full net positive charge moves inward through the transmembrane field during the inward Cl- translocation event, and a small net negative charge moves with SO4= during the SO4= translocation event. This result suggests that, in normal cells, the negative charge on Glu 681 traverses most of the transmembrane electric field, accompanied by Cl- and the equivalent of two protein-bound positive charges.

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