Lithium influx into human erythrocytes increased 12-fold, when chloride was replaced with bicarbonate in a 150 mM lithium medium (38 degrees C. pH 7.4). The increase was linearly related to both lithium- and bicarbonate concentration, and was completely eliminated by the amino reagent 4, 4'- diisothiocyanostilbene-2,2'-disulfonic acid (DIDS). DIDS binds to an integral membrane protein (mol wt approximately 10(5) dalton) involved in anion exchange. Inhibition of both anion exchange and of bicarbonate-stimulated lithium influx was linearly related to DIDS binding. 1.1 X 10(6) DIDS molecules per cell caused complete inhibition of both processes. Both Cl- and Li+ can apparently be transported by the anion transport mechanism. The results support our previous proposal that bicarbonate-induced lithium permeability is due to transport of lithium-carbonate ion pairs (LiCO-3). DIDS-sensitive lithium influx had a high activation energy (24 kcal/mol), compatible with transport by the anion exchange mechanism. We have examined how variations of passive lithium permeability, induced by bicarbonate, affect the sodium-driven lithium counter-transport in human erythrocytes. The ability of the counter-transport system to establish a lithium gradient across the membrane decrease linearly with bicarbonate concentration in the medium. The counter-transport system was unaffected by DIDS treatement. At a plasma bicarbonate concentration of 24 mM, two-thirds of the lithium influx is mediated by the bicarbonate-stimulated pathway, and the fraction will increase significantly in metabolic alkalosis.

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