Sickle cell disease: from membrane pathophysiology to novel therapies for prevention of erythrocyte dehydration

J Pediatr Hematol Oncol. 2003 Dec;25(12):927-33. doi: 10.1097/00043426-200312000-00004.


Sickle cell anemia is characterized by the presence of dense dehydrated erythrocytes that have lost most of their K content. Due to the unique dependence of Hb S polymerization on intracellular Hb S concentration, preventing this dehydration should markedly reduce polymerization. The erythrocyte intermediate conductance Ca-activated K channel (hSK4 or KCNN4), first described by Gardos, has been shown to be a major pathway for sickle cell dehydration. Studies with the imidazole antimycotic clotrimazole have shown reduction of sickle cell dehydration in vivo in a small number of patients with sickle cell disease; dose-limiting gastrointestinal and liver toxicities were observed. Based on the chemical structure of clotrimazole metabolites, a novel Gardos channel inhibitor, ICA-17043, has been developed. It has shown substantial activity both in vitro and in vivo in transgenic sickle mice. ICA-17043 is currently in phase 2 human trials. Another potential therapeutic target is the K-Cl cotransport. When sickle erythrocytes are exposed to relatively acidic conditions, they undergo cell shrinkage via activation of this pathway. K-Cl cotransport can be blocked by increasing the abnormally low erythrocyte Mg content of sickle erythrocytes. Oral Mg supplementation has been shown to reduce sickle cell dehydration in vivo in transgenic sickle mice and in patients in two separate clinical trials. Oral Mg pidolate is being tested in clinical trials in homozygous sickle cell disease and in Hb S/HbC (SC) disease, either as a single agent or in combination with hydroxyurea. The ongoing trials will determine the clinical effectiveness of therapies aimed at preventing sickle erythrocyte dehydration.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anemia, Sickle Cell / drug therapy*
  • Anemia, Sickle Cell / pathology*
  • Dehydration / drug therapy
  • Dehydration / prevention & control
  • Erythrocytes, Abnormal / drug effects
  • Erythrocytes, Abnormal / metabolism*
  • Erythrocytes, Abnormal / pathology
  • Humans
  • Magnesium / pharmacology
  • Magnesium / therapeutic use
  • Potassium / metabolism
  • Potassium Channels, Calcium-Activated / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Symporters / antagonists & inhibitors


  • Potassium Channels, Calcium-Activated
  • SLC12A6 protein, human
  • SLC12A7 protein, human
  • Symporters
  • Magnesium
  • Potassium