A 52-yr-old multiparous white female was found to have Rh null blood type. She had macrocytic anemia, with reticulocytosis (15%-20%), of long duration. Although stomatocytes in peripheral blood were numerous and osmotic fragility was increased, suggesting increased cell water, the RBC cation content, and thus cell water, was decreased. Cell dehydration was confirmed by an increased proportion of high density RBC on Stractan density gradients. The deformability of RBC from four gradient subpopulations was measured in the ektacytometer as a function of suspending medium osmolality. Analysis of these measurements showed an abnormal reduction in cell surface area with increasing cell density, thus explaining the increased osmotic fragility of whole blood. This was confirmed by a density-dependent reduction in cell cholesterol content, suggesting membrane instability in vivo. Rh null subpopulations showed a twofold increase in both ouabain-sensitive and - insensitive Na-K ATPase activity and 86Rb transport, even in the dense fraction with the fewest reticulocytes. No membrane protein or glycoprotein abnormality was detected by SDS-PAGE. The associated deficiencies of both membrane surface area and cation content in Rh null cells, as well as increased Na-K pump activity, suggest a pleiotropic functional interrelationship among Rh antigen, membrane stability, and cation regulation.

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