1. Orthophosphate (Pi), adenosine 5′-diphosphate (ADP), adenosine 5′-triphosphate (ATP) and 2,3-diphosphoglycerate (2,3-DPG) were measured in the erythrocytes of patients in an intensive care unit.
2. The patients’ plasma concentration of Pi varied from 0.1 to 4.2 mmol/l, and the corresponding concentration in erythrocytes varied from 0.1 to 2.0 mmol/litre of cells.
3. Marked ATP depletion (less than 1 mmol/litre of cells) was only observed when erythrocyte Pi was less than 0.3 mmol/litre of cells and plasma Pi was less than 0.35 mmol/l. No dependence of 2,3-DPG concentration on the cellular concentration of Pi was detected.
4. The phosphorylation potential [ATP]/([ADP] × [Pi]) varied inversely with the erythrocyte concentration of Pi. Hence the calculated free energy of hydrolysis of ATP in the cell increased from −58 kJ/mol in the most hypophosphataemic samples to −51 kJ/mol in the most hyperphosphataemic. Such changes may adversely affect cell function by altering the steady state mass-action ratios of ATPase reactions.
5. When erythrocytes from normal donors were incubated in solutions containing 1 or 5 mmol/l Pi, the cellular concentrations of Pi stabilized at 1.09 and 2.85 mmol/litre of cells respectively. The corresponding rates of lactate production were 2.09 and 3.11 mmol h−1 litre−1 of cells.
6. In spite of this stimulation of glycolysis (and hence of the flux through ATP synthesizing steps of the Embden-Meyerhof pathway), no significant change in ATP concentration was observed. As in the patients' cells, this indicates that, when extracellular Pi concentrations are perturbed, the concentrations, in erythrocytes, of organic phosphates are more closely regulated than the concentration of Pi.