Hemoglobin in glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD)-deficient erythrocytes is abnormally vulnerable to oxidative denaturation, which may release ferriheme, a known cytolytic agent. We found 13.3 nmol of ferriheme in G6PD-deficient erythrocyte membranes (per gram of total erythrocyte hemoglobin) using a spectrophotometric assay, as compared to 9.8 in normal membranes (P less than .05). After incubation of erythrocytes with 250 mumol/L menadione, an oxidant drug, the values increased by 37.4 nmol in G6PD-deficient membranes and by 26 in normal membranes (P less than .005), indicating increased hemoglobin denaturation. To verify that hemoglobin denaturation in G6PD-deficient erythrocytes releases ferriheme in a form available to interact with other ligands, [14C]-chloroquine binding to intact erythrocytes was measured. With an initial concentration of 5 mumol/L chloroquine in a medium containing no menadione, an excess of 14.8 nmol of chloroquine was bound in G6PD-deficient erythrocytes (per gram of hemoglobin) as compared to normal erythrocytes (P less than .005). In the presence of 250 mumol/L menadione, chloroquine binding increased by 17.9 nmol in G6PD-deficient and by 7.2 in normal erythrocytes (P less than .005). These results indicate that ferriheme becomes available to interact with endogenous ligands and, thus, to mediate menadione-induced hemolysis in patients with G6PD deficiency. Furthermore, the increase in ferriheme may mediate the selective toxicity of menadione for Plasmodium falciparum parasites growing in G6PD-deficient erythrocytes. Ferriheme release in response to the intraerythrocytic oxidant stress introduced by malaria parasites also may account for the resistance to malaria afforded by G6PD deficiency. This is a US government work. There are no restrictions on its use.

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