Sickle erythrocytes (RBC) incubated under 100% nitrogen for 4 hr manifested marked Na gain with an equivalent K loss. There were no changes in cell total cation or water content under these conditions, and no irreversible sickle cells (ISC) were formed. In contrast, sickle RBC incubated for 24 hr under 100% nitrogen in a glucose-free Na medium containing calcium manifested marked ISC formation. ISC formed under these conditions also had elevated Na content, although K content was much more reduced, and consequently ISC were cation depleted and dehydrated. When sickle RBC were incubated 24 hr under 100% nitrogen in a glucose-free K medium containing calcium no ISC formed and there were no major changes in cation or water content. These studies indicate that the Na+K content and dehydration of ISC was not directly related to the increased cation permeability associated with sickling. Rather, the ISC changes appear to reflect the well-known Gardos effect (K and water loss occurring in ATP-depleted RBC incubated with calcium). In addition, these studies suggest that ISC formation per se is related to K and water loss, since no ISC were formed when ATP-depleted sickle RBC were deoxygenated in calcium-containing high-K media that prevented K loss and dehydration.