We investigated 3,3′,5-tri-iodo-l-thyronine transport by human erythrocytes and by ‘ghosts’ prepared from these cells. Uptake of tri-iodothyronine by erythrocytes at 37°C was time-dependent with a maximum reached after 60min. Tracer analysis after incubation for 1min revealed only one saturable binding site, with Km 128±19nm (mean±s.e.m.; n=7) and Vmax. 4.6±0.7pmol of tri-iodothyronine/min per 6×107 cells. After 10min incubation Km 100±16nm (n=10) was found with Vmax. 7.7±1.2pmol of tri-iodothyronine/10min per 6×107 cells. At 0°C the uptake system is still active, with Km 132±26nm and Vmax. 1.8±0.3pmol of tri-iodothyronine/10min per 6×107 cells. The Vmax. with intact cells is 5-fold greater than the Vmax. with membranes derived from the same amount of cells when uptake studies are performed in media with similar free tri-iodothyronine concentrations. This indicates that at least 80% of tri-iodothyronine taken up by the intact erythrocytes enters the cell. This saturable uptake system can be inhibited by X-ray-contrast agents in a dose-dependent fashion. (±)-Propranolol, but not atenolol, has the same effect, indicating that the membrane-stabilizing properties of (±)-propranolol are involved. Furthermore, there is no inhibition by ouabain or vanadate, which indicates that tri-iodothyronine uptake is not dependent on the activity of Na++K+-dependent adenosine triphosphatase. We have prepared erythrocyte ‘ghosts‘, resealed after 2.5min with 0mm-, 2mm- or 4mm-ATP inside. Inclusion of ATP and integrity of the membrane of the erythrocyte ‘ghosts’ were verified on the basis of an ATP-concentration-dependent functioning of the Ca2+ pump. No difference was found in the uptake of tri-iodothyronine by erythrocyte ‘ghosts’ with or without ATP included, indicating that uptake of tri-iodothyronine is not ATP-dependent. The following conclusions are drawn. (1) Tri-iodothyronine enters human erythrocytes. (2) There is only one saturable uptake system present for tri-iodothyronine, which is neither energy (i.e. ATP)-dependent nor influenced by the absence of an Na+ gradient across the plasma membrane. This mode of uptake of tri-iodothyronine by human erythrocytes is in sharp contrast with that of rat hepatocytes, which uptake system is energy-dependent and ouabain-sensitive [Krenning, Docter, Bernard, Visser & Hennemann (1978) FEBS Lett.91, 113–116; Krenning, Docter, Bernard, Visser & Hennemann (1980) FEBS Lett.119, 279–282]. (3) X-ray-contrast agents inhibit tri-iodothyronine uptake by erythrocytes in a similar fashion to that by which they inhibit the uptake of tri-iodothyronine by rat hepatocytes [Krenning, Docter, Bernard, Visser & Hennemann (1982) FEBS Lett.140, 229–233].

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