The red cell Na/K pump is known to continue to extrude Na when both Na and K are removed from the external medium. Because this ouabain-sensitive flux occurs in the absence of an exchangeable cation, it is referred to as uncoupled Na efflux. This flux is also known to be inhibited by 5 mM Nao but to a lesser extent than that inhibitable by ouabain. Uncoupled Na efflux via the Na/K pump therefore can be divided into a Nao-sensitive and Nao-insensitive component. We used DIDS-treated, SO4-equilibrated human red blood cells suspended in HEPES-buffered (pHo 7.4) MgSO4 or (Tris)2SO4, in which we measured 22Na efflux, 35SO4 efflux, and changes in the membrane potential with the fluorescent dye, diS-C3 (5). A principal finding is that uncoupled Na efflux occurs electroneurally, in contrast to the pump's normal electrogenic operation when exchanging Nai for Ko. This electroneutral uncoupled efflux of Na was found to be balanced by an efflux of cellular anions. (We were unable to detect any ouabain-sensitive uptake of protons, measured in an unbuffered medium at pH 7.4 with a Radiometer pH-STAT.) The Nao-sensitive efflux of Nai was found to be 1.95 +/- 0.10 times the Nao-sensitive efflux of (SO4)i, indicating that the stoichiometry of this cotransport is two Na+ per SO4=, accounting for 60-80% of the electroneutral Na efflux. The remainder portion, that is, the ouabain-sensitive Nao-insensitive component, has been identified as PO4-coupled Na transport and is the subject of a separate paper. That uncoupled Na efflux occurs as a cotransport with anions is supported by the result, obtained with resealed ghosts, that when internal and external SO4 was substituted by the impermeant anion, tartrate i,o, the efflux of Na was inhibited 60-80%. This inhibition could be relieved by the inclusion, before DIDS treatment, of 5 mM Cli,o. Addition of 10 mM Ko to tartrate i,o ghosts, with or without Cli,o, resulted in full activation of Na/K exchange and the pump's electrogenicity. Although it can be concluded that Na efflux in the uncoupled mode occurs by means of a cotransport with cellular anions, the molecular basis for this change in the internal charge structure of the pump and its change in ion selectivity is at present unknown.

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