The lytic effect of complement on human erythrocytes has been reported by others to increase when Na+ is substituted for K+ in the external medium. In this paper we have investigated the hypothesis that net loss of K+ through a K+ transport pathway protects erythrocytes from complement-induced colloidosmotic swelling and lysis. Antibody-sensitized human erythrocytes containing different intracellular cation concentrations (nystatin treatment) were exposed to low concentrations of guinea pig serum in media of different cation composition; complement lysis was assessed by the release of hemoglobin and the volume of the surviving cells estimated by their density distribution profiles. Complement-dependent swelling and lysis of erythrocytes (a) were limited by the presence of an outwardly directed K+ electrochemical gradient and (b) were enhanced by carbocyanine, a specific inhibitor of the Ca2+-activated K+ transport pathway, and by absence of Ca2+ in the external medium. We propose that during complement activation a rising cytosolic calcium triggers the Ca2+-activated K+ permeability pathway, the Gardos effect, produces a net K+, Cl- and water loss, and thus limits the colloidosmotic swelling and lysis of erythrocytes.
J A Halperin, C Brugnara, A Nicholson-Weller