Pathologic water loss from sickle erythrocytes concentrates the abnormal hemoglobin and promotes sickling. The Ca2+-activated K+ channel (Gardos channel) contributes to this deleterious dehydration in vitro, and blockade of K+ and water loss via this channel could be a potential therapy in vivo. We treated five subjects who have sickle cell anemia with oral clotrimazole, a specific Gardos channel inhibitor. Patients were started on a dose of 10 mg clotrimazole/kg/d for one week. Protocol design allowed the daily dose to be escalated by 10 mg/kg each week until significant changes in erythrocyte density and K+ transport were achieved. Blood was sampled three times a week for hematological and chemical assays, erythrocyte density, cation content, and K+ transport. At dosages of 20 mg clotrimazole/kg/d, all subjects showed Gardos channel inhibition, reduced erythrocyte dehydration, increased cell K+ content, and somewhat increased hemoglobin levels. Adverse effects were limited to mild/moderate dysuria in all subjects, and a reversible increase in plasma alanine transaminase and aspartic transaminase levels in two subjects treated with 30 mg clotrimazole/kg/d. This is the first in vivo evidence that the Gardos channel causes dehydration of sickle erythrocytes, and that its pharmacologic inhibition provides a realistic antisickling strategy.
C Brugnara, B Gee, C C Armsby, S Kurth, M Sakamoto, N Rifai, S L Alper, O S Platt