1. During metabolic acidosis, significant fluxes of inorganic phosphate (Pi) may occur from cellular to extracellular fluid. In this study Pi was measured in erythrocytes of uraemic patients before and after haemodialysis and was related to their plasma pH (acidosis), plasma Pi (hyperphosphataemia) and cellular organic phosphate concentrations.
2. Before dialysis, the ratio of cellular to extracellular Pi concentration correlated inversely with plasma pH, increasing 2.5-fold as pH fell from 7.4 to 7.2.
3. An increase in cellular Pi similar to that seen in the patients was observed within 90 min of adding acid to normal erythrocytes in vitro.
4. The total Pi content of the cell suspension increased 25% on decreasing plasma pH from 7.4 to 7.2, largely as a result of generation of Pi from 2,3-bisphosphoglycerate in the cells. This was accompanied by net efflux of Pi into plasma.
5. In addition, the increase in the steady-state cellular Pi concentration on adding a constant extracellular Pi load was 50% greater at pH 7.2 than at 7.4, implying that alterations in the regulation of the transmembrane Pi gradient also contribute to the rise in cellular Pi observed at low pH.
6. At normal plasma Pi concentration (1 mM), glycolytic flux (lactate production) was inhibited by 20% when pH was lowered from 7.4 to 7.2. However, this inhibition was blocked when cellular Pi was increased by adding Pi to the plasma in vitro.
7. Metabolic acidosis is therefore a potent stimulus for Pi generation in erythrocytes, and this Pi may serve to stimulate glycolysis which is normally inhibited by low pH.