The properties of the K+ pathway underlying regulatory volume decrease (RVD) in human blood lymphocytes were investigated. Evidence is presented for the existence of three types of K+ conductance in these cells. Ionomycin, a Ca2+ ionophore, induced a K(+)-dependent hyperpolarization, indicating the presence of Ca2(+)-activated K+ channels, which were blocked by charybdotoxin (CTX). CTX also induced a depolarization of the resting membrane potential, even at subphysiological cytosolic [Ca2+]([Ca2+]i), which suggests the existence of a second CTX-sensitive, but Ca2(+)-independent conductance. A CTX-resistant K+ conductance was also detected. RVD in blood lymphocytes was partially (approximately 75%) blocked by CTX. However, volume regulation was not accompanied by detectable changes in [Ca2+]i, nor was it prevented by removal of extracellular Ca2+ and depletion or buffering of intracellular Ca2+. These observations suggest that K+ loss during RVD is mediated by Ca2(+)-independent, CTX-sensitive channels or that Ca2(+)-dependent channels can be activated by cell swelling at normal or subnormal [Ca2+]i. The former interpretation is supported by findings in rat thymic lymphocytes. These cells also displayed a CTX-sensitive Ca2(+)-dependent hyperpolarization. However, CTX did not significantly alter the resting potential, suggesting the absence of functional Ca2(+)-independent, toxin-sensitive channels. Volume regulation in thymic lymphocytes was less efficient than in human blood cells. In contrast to blood lymphocytes, RVD in thymocytes was not affected by CTX. These observations indicate that, though present in lymphocytes, Ca2(+)-activated K+ channels do not play an important role in volume regulation. Instead, RVD seems to be mediated by Ca2(+)-independent K+ channels. We propose that two types of channels, one CTX sensitive and the other CTX insensitive, mediate RVD in human blood lymphocytes, whereas only the latter type is involved in rat thymocytes.

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