1. Adaptive mechanisms of oxygen transport by blood have been studied in severely anaemic young patients on maintenance haemodialysis, in conditions of hyperphosphataemia (P1 ≥ 2·2 mmol/l) or normophosphataemia.
2. In hyperphosphataemia whole-blood affinity for oxygen was slightly decreased, as measured by an increase in P50 (the partial pressure of oxygen necessary to half saturate haemoglobin). 2,3-Diphosphoglycerate was increased by 10% (P < 0·10) whereas P1, total erythrocyte phosphate and ATP were increased by 100%, 47% and 36% respectively, compared with control values.
3. After correction of hyperphosphataemia a small but significant decrease in P50 and 2,3-diphosphoglycerate, to normal values, was observed whereas the other variables, although significantly lowered, remained above control values.
4. In these severely anaemic and hyperphosphataemic patients P50 and 2,3-diphosphoglycerate are only slightly increased. ATP synthesis appears to be favoured over that of 2,3-diphosphoglycerate. This is possibly due to alterations in the erythrocyte membrane elicited by bi-weekly extracorporeal circulation. Adequate oxygen transport can be achieved only through a drastic increase in blood flow. Correction of hyperphosphataemia adds further to the abnormality. It is concluded that this condition could induce a long-term myocardial fatigue, which might be prevented with occasional small blood transfusions.