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Our understanding of pH regulation within red blood cells (RBCs) has been inferred mainly from indirect experiments rather than from in situ measurements of intracellular pH (pH(i)). The present work shows that carboxy-SNARF-1, a pH fluorophore, when used with confocal imaging or flow cytometry, reliably reports pH(i) in individual, human RBCs, provided intracellular fluorescence is calibrated using a 'null-point' procedure. Mean pH(i) was 7.25 in CO(2)/HCO(3)(-)-buffered medium and 7.15 in Hepes-buffered medium, and varied linearly with extracellular pH (slope of 0.77). Intrinsic (non-CO(2)/HCO(3)(-)-dependent) buffering power, estimated in the intact cell (85 mmol (l cell)(-1) (pH unit)(-1) at resting pH(i)), was somewhat higher than previous estimates from cell lysates (50-70 mmol (l cell)(-1) (pH unit)(-1)). Acute displacement of pH(i) (superfusion of weak acids/bases) triggered rapid pH(i) recovery. This was mediated via membrane Cl(-)/HCO(3)(-) exchange (the AE1 gene product), irrespective of whether recovery was from an intracellular acid or base load, and with no evident contribution from other transporters such as Na(+)/H(+) exchange. H(+)-equivalent flux through AE1 was a linear function of [H(+)](i) and reversed at resting pH(i), indicating that its activity is not allosterically regulated by pH(i), in contrast to other AE isoforms. By simultaneously monitoring pH(i) and markers of cell volume, a functional link between membrane ion transport, volume and pH(i) was demonstrated. RBC pH(i) is therefore tightly regulated via AE1 activity, but modulated during changes of cell volume. A comparable volume-pH(i) link may also be important in other cell types expressing anion exchangers. Direct measurement of pH(i) should be useful in future investigations of RBC physiology and pathology.

Original publication




Journal article


J Physiol

Publication Date





4995 - 5014


Anion Exchange Protein 1, Erythrocyte, Benzopyrans, Bicarbonates, Buffers, Carbon Dioxide, Chlorides, Erythrocytes, Fluorescence, Humans, Hydrogen-Ion Concentration, Naphthols, Protons, Rhodamines