Volume regulation and KCl cotransport in reticulocyte populations of sickle and normal red blood cells

Blood Cells Mol Dis. 2011 Aug 15;47(2):95-9. doi: 10.1016/j.bcmd.2011.04.007. Epub 2011 May 14.


The potassium chloride co-transporter (KCC) is a member of the electroneutral cation chloride family of cotransporters found in multiple tissues that are involved in transepithelial ion transport and regulation of intracellular ion content and cell volume. We have shown previously that three of the four KCC genes - KCC1, KCC3, and KCC4 - are expressed in red blood cells (RBC) (Exp. Hem. 33:624, 2005). Functionally, the KCC mediates volume reduction of reticulocytes that establishes the higher cellular hemoglobin concentration (CHC) of mature RBC. KCC activity is higher in reticulocytes and diminishes with age. KCC activity in RBC containing sickle hemoglobin (SS RBC) is elevated compared to normal (AA RBC) in part due to reticulocytosis in SS blood. However, we have demonstrated that SS reticulocytes have abnormal regulation of KCC activity leading to increased CHC upon activation of KCC compared to AA reticulocytes (Blood 104:2954, 2004; Blood 109:1734, 2007). These findings implicate KCC as a factor in the dehydration of SS RBC, which leads to elevated Hb S concentration and enhances Hb S polymerization and hemolysis. Because KCC activity correlates with cell age, standard flux measurements on blood samples with different numbers of reticulocytes or young non-reticulocytes are not comparable. The Advia automated cell counter measures cell volume (MCV) and cellular hemoglobin concentration (CHC) in reticulocytes, an age-defined population of cells, and thus circumvents the problem of variable reticulocyte counts among SS and AA blood samples. In this study, reticulocyte CHC measurements on fresh blood demonstrated a clear difference between AA and SS cells, reflecting in vivo dehydration of SS reticulocytes, although there was significant inter-individual variation, and the CHC distributions of the two groups overlapped. After KCC activation in vitro by cell swelling using the nystatin method, the initial changes in reticulocyte MCV and CHC with time were used to estimate flux rates mediated by KCC, assuming that changes were associated with isotonic KCl movements. After 20-30min a final steady state MCV/CHC (set point) was achieved and maintained, reflecting inactivation of the transporter. CHC set points were 26.5-29g/dl in SS reticulocytes compared to 25-26.5g/dl in AA reticulocytes, reflecting abnormal regulation in SS cells. These results were reproducible in the same individual over time. KCC flux derived from CHC ranged from 5 to 10.3mmolK/kgHb/min in SS reticulocytes, compared to 2.9-7.2mmolK/kgHb/min in AA reticulocytes. Such measures of KCC activity in red cell populations controlled for cell age will facilitate further studies correlating KCC activity with phenotypic or genetic variability in sickle cell disease.

MeSH terms

  • Anemia, Sickle Cell / blood*
  • Anemia, Sickle Cell / genetics
  • Anemia, Sickle Cell / pathology
  • Automation, Laboratory
  • Cell Size* / drug effects
  • Cellular Senescence
  • Chlorides / blood*
  • Erythrocyte Count
  • Erythrocytes / cytology
  • Erythrocytes / metabolism*
  • Genetic Variation
  • Hemoglobin, Sickle / chemistry
  • Hemoglobin, Sickle / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Ion Transport / drug effects
  • Ionophores / pharmacology
  • Nystatin / pharmacology
  • Polymerization
  • Potassium / blood*
  • Reticulocyte Count
  • Reticulocytes / cytology
  • Reticulocytes / metabolism*
  • Symporters / metabolism*


  • Chlorides
  • Hemoglobin, Sickle
  • Ionophores
  • Symporters
  • potassium-chloride symporters
  • Nystatin
  • Potassium