The presence of detectagle amounts of non-heme iron in erythrocyte ghost membranes have been postulated to lead to the initiation of membrane lipid peroxidation and the attendant perturbation of membrane functions. We have investigated the presence of non-heme iron and endogenous products of lipid peroxidation in erythrocyte membranes of normal and kwashiorkor (KWA) subjects and assessed the susceptibility of the membranes to exogenously generated reactive oxygen species. The modulation of the basal and calmodulin-stimulated calcium-pumping activity of these membranes by reactive oxygen species was also assessed. The results show the presence of significant amounts of non-heme iron and endogenous free radical reaction products in the red cell membranes of KWA subjects compared with that of normal children. Estimation of the extent of lipid peroxidation in the presence of exogenously generated reactive oxygen species further revealed that erythrocyte ghost membranes of KWA subjects are more susceptible to oxidative stress than those of normal individuals. Although both the basal and calmodulin-stimulated activities of the membrane-bound Ca2+-pump enzyme in normal and KWA subjects were inhibited by oxygen-free radicals, the erythrocyte enzyme in KWA subjects showed higher susceptibility to inhibition by oxygen free radicals than that of normal individuals. We propose that the reduced erythrocyte calcium-pump function in KWA is not unconnected with excessive generation of reactive oxygen species.

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