An elutriator was used to study exchange of labeled CO2 and bicarbonate with erythrocytes. Rabbit erythrocytes were suspended by centrifugation in a stream of fluid and exposed to transient injections of an extracellular indicator (125I-albumin or 22Na+), a water indicator (3H2O), and H14CO3- and/or 14CO2. Diffusion of indicators into erythrocytes was judged by comparison of initial concentrations of diffusible and extracellular indicators in the elutriator outflow. It was possible to conduct these experiments at normal hematocrits because any carbonic anhydrase released from erythrocytes by hemolysis was washed away in the elutriator flow, and ambient pH, PO2, and PCO2 were kept constant by the inflow of fresh fluid. Equilibration of HCO3- with erythrocytes was complete during the 7- to 10-s transit time through the chamber. After this exchange was irreversibly inhibited by the anion exchange inhibitor, DIDS (4,4'-diisothiocyanostilbene-2,2'-disulfonic acid), addition of carbonic anhydrase (100 mg/dl) accelerated exchange, but acetazolamide (20 mg/dl) was without effect. These observations were consistent with the absence of carbonic anhydrase on the surface of the erythrocytes.
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