Measurements have been made on the permeability of the human erythrocyte to Na and K in vitro, using radioactive tracers to observe the system in the steady state. The average inward K flux is 1.67 m.eq./liter cells hour, and the apparent activation energy is 12,300 ± 1300 calories/mol. The inward K flux is independent of the external K concentration in the range of concentrations studied (4 to 16 m.eq. K/liter plasma). Rb appears to compete with K for transport into the cell, whereas Na and Li do not. The average inward Na flux is 3.08 ± 0.57 m.eq. Na/liter cells hour, and the apparent activation energies are 20,200 ± 2700 calories/mol for inward transport, and 14,900 ± 3,400 calories/mol for outward transport. The inward Na flux is dependent on the external Na concentration, but not in a linear fashion. Li appears to compete with Na for inward transport, whereas K and Rb do not.
An approximate maximum estimate shows that the energy required for cation transport is only 8.8 calories/mol liter cells hour of the 110 calories/mol liter cells hour available from the consumption of glucose. A working hypothesis for the transport of Na and K is presented.