1. In order to study the relationship between extracellular and intracellular concentrations of orthophosphate (Pi), phosphorus nuclear magnetic resonance spectra were recorded, at rest, from the flexor digitorum superficialis muscle of hypophosphataemic patients with vitamin D-resistant rickets, and patients with Paget's disease of bone before and after they had been made hyperphosphataemic by treatment with the drug ethylidene-1-hydroxy-1,1-bisphosphonate. Changes in intramuscular Pi were estimated from the ratio of the areas of the Pi to adenosine 5′-triphosphate peaks. Even though the plasma Pi concentration in these patients spanned a fourfold range (0.5–2.0 mmol/l) the corresponding intramuscular Pi concentration increased by only 70%.
2. A similar effect was observed in erythrocytes, from patients with these disorders, which were incubated in autologous plasma at 37°C, under an atmosphere of O2 + CO2 (95:5, v/v). However, chloride ions, which are transported passively across the cell membrane, showed no change in distribution between cells and plasma, indicating that there was no general effect on passive anion distribution.
3. When erythrocytes from normal subjects were incubated in autologous plasma (1.0 mmol of Pi/l) and in plasma supplemented with Pi (2.3 mmol of Pi/l), the Pi concentration in the cells, at steady state, increased only from 0.57 to 0.78 mmol/l cells, suggesting that the effect was not an artifact of disease or drug therapy.
4. It is concluded that, in human skeletal myocytes and erythrocytes, the percentage change in the concentration of cytoplasmic Pi is lower than that in plasma. This implies that these cells can buffer or regulate cytoplasmic Pi when the extracellular concentration is disturbed.