Red cells exposed to t-butyl hydroperoxide undergo lipid peroxidation, haemoglobin degradation and hexose monophosphate-shunt stimulation. By using the lipid-soluble antioxidant 2,6-di-t-butyl-p-cresol, the relative contributions of t-butyl hydroperoxide and membrane lipid hydroperoxides to oxidative haemoglobin changes and hexose monophosphate-shunt stimulation were determined. About 90% of the haemoglobin changes and all of the hexose monophosphate-shunt stimulation were caused by t-butyl hydroperoxide. The remainder of the haemoglobin changes appeared to be due to reactions between haemoglobin and lipid hydroperoxides generated during membrane peroxidation. After exposure of red cells to t-butyl hydroperoxide, no lipid hydroperoxides were detected iodimetrically, whether or not glucose was present in the incubation. Concentrations of 2,6-di-t-butyl-p-cresol, which almost totally suppressed lipid peroxidation, significantly inhibited haemoglobin binding to the membrane but had no significant effect on hexose monophosphate shunt stimulation, suggesting that lipid hydroperoxides had been decomposed by a reaction with haem or haem-protein and not enzymically via glutathione peroxidase. The mechanisms of lipid peroxidation and haemoglobin oxidation and the protective role of glucose were also investigated. In time-course studies of red cells containing oxyhaemoglobin, methaemoglobin or carbonmono-oxyhaemoglobin incubated without glucose and exposed to t-butyl hydroperoxide, haemoglobin oxidation paralleled both lipid peroxidation and t-butyl hydroperoxide consumption. Lipid peroxidation ceased when all t-butyl hydroperoxide was consumed, indicating that it was not autocatalytic and was driven by initiation events followed by rapid propagation and termination of chain reactions and rapid non-enzymic decomposition of lipid hydroperoxides. Carbonmono-oxyhaemoglobin and oxyhaemoglobin were good promoters of peroxidation, whereas methaemoglobin relatively spared the membrane from peroxidation. The protective influence of glucose metabolism on the time course of t-butyl hydroperoxide-induced changes was greatest in carbonmono-oxyhaemoglobin-containing red cells followed in order by oxyhaemoglobin- and methaemoglobin-containing red cells. This is the reverse order of the reactivity of the hydroperoxide with haemoglobin, which is greatest with methaemoglobin. In studies exposing red cells to a wide range of t-butyl hydroperoxide concentrations, haemoglobin oxidation and lipid peroxidation did not occur until the cellular glutathione had been oxidized. The amount of lipid peroxidation per increment in added t-butyl hydroperoxide was greatest in red cells containing carbonmono-oxyhaemoglobin, followed in order by oxyhaemoglobin and methaemoglobin. Red cells containing oxyhaemoglobin and carbonmono-oxyhaemoglobin and exposed to increasing concentrations of t-butyl hydroperoxide became increasingly resistant to lipid peroxidation as methaemoglobin accumulated, supporting a relatively protective role for methaemoglobin. In the presence of glucose, higher levels of t-butyl hydroperoxide were required to induce lipid peroxidation and haemoglobin oxidation compared with incubations without glucose. Carbonmono-oxyhaemoglobin-containing red cells exposed to the highest levels of t-butyl hydroperoxide underwent haemolysis after a critical level of lipid peroxidation was reached. Inhibition of lipid peroxidation by 2,6-di-t-butyl-p-cresol below this critical level prevented haemolysis. Oxidative membrane damage appeared to be a more important determinant of haemolysis in vitro than haemoglobin degradation. The effects of various antioxidants and free-radical scavengers on lipid peroxidation in red cells or in ghosts plus methaemoglobin exposed to t-butyl hydroperoxide suggested that red-cell haemoglobin decomposed the hydroperoxide by a homolytic scission mechanism to t-butoxyl radicals.

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