In immature rat microvessels, endothelial cells and glioma cells, exposure to lead results in an increase in the level of protein kinase C in membranes. In this paper we have extended these studies to human erythrocytes and, in addition, studied the phosphorylation of membrane proteins. A significant increase in the phosphorylation of membrane cytoskeletal proteins of molecular mass 120, 80, 52 and 45 kDa was observed in human erythrocytes treated for 60 min with lead acetate at concentrations greater than 100 nM. These same proteins were phosphorylated when erythrocytes were treated for 10 min with 50 nM phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate (PMA). Similarly, protein kinase C activity was elevated and an increase in the amount of protein kinase C-α was observed in membranes from erythrocytes exposed to concentrations of lead acetate above 100 nM. No changes, however, in the activities of cAMP-dependent protein kinase, protein phosphatases I and IIA or casein kinase were observed. Phosphorylation of these membrane proteins stimulated by lead acetate or by PMA was not observed in erythrocytes depleted of protein kinase C by a 72-h treatment with 500 nM phorbol 12,13-dibutyrate. Finally, no changes in the levels of calcium or diacylglycerol were observed in erythrocytes stimulated with 100 nM lead acetate. These results indicate that, in erythrocytes, lead acetate stimulates the phosphorylation of membrane cytoskeletal proteins by a mechanism dependent on protein kinase C. Since levels of calcium or diacylglycerols did not increase, it appears that lead may activate the enzyme by a direct interaction.

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