1. We have examined the inter-relationships between erythrocyte sodium content and sodium transport in a group of healthy subjects and in groups of patients with disorders known to change the sodium content of erythrocytes.
2. In the healthy subjects the sodium content of erythrocytes was inversely related to both the permeability of the erythrocyte membrane to sodium (as measured by the unidirectional, ouabain-sensitive, sodium efflux) and the total activity of the sodium pumps (as measured by the rate constant of ouabain-sensitive sodium efflux). There was a correlation between the total activity of the sodium pumps and the membrane permeability to sodium.
3. Changes in the erythrocyte sodium content were due to a decrease in the activity of the sodium pumps (as in hypokalaemia and digoxin treatment), or a decrease in the permeability of the erythrocyte membrane to sodium (as in chronic renal failure) or a reduction of both the membrane permeability and the number of sodium pumps (as in hyperthyroidism or elderly patients).
4. One interpretation of the results in the healthy subjects is that there are two components of sodium influx; one associated with the sodium pumps in what we have called ‘membrane-units’ and the other determined by the ground permeability of the membrane.
5. On the basis of this model we suggest that in the geriatric and hyperthyroid patients there is a reduction in the number of ‘membrane-units’, that in hypokalaemia and during digoxin treatment there is inhibition of the sodium-pump component of the ‘membrane-units’ and that in chronic renal failure there is a decrease in the permeability of the membrane to sodium.