Measurement of cellular K and Na concentrations in growing Escherichia coli indicates that the osmololity of the medium is a major determinant of the cell K concentration. In contrast, the cell Na concentration is independent of the medium osmolality and is largely dependent on the Na concentration of the medium. Sudden changes in the osmolality of the medium lead to rapid changes in K content. Washing the cells with solutions of lower osmolality results in a very rapid loss of K, which is greater in more dilute and in cold solutions. A sudden increase in the osmolality of the growth medium produces a rapid uptake of K by a mechanism whose rate is a saturable function of the K concentration of the medium and which appears to involve an exchange of K for cellular H.

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