Investigation by Schindler et al and Sheetz and Casaly have indicated that high (approximately 10 mmol/L) concentrations of 2,3- diphosphoglycerate (2,3-DPG) have a destabilizing effect on erythrocyte membrane and the membrane skeleton. We have investigated changes in the membrane mechanical properties that occur at elevated 2,3-DPG levels in both intact cells and ghosts. The membrane shear modulus, viscoelastic recovery time constant, critical force, “plastic” viscosity, and material relaxation time constant were measured by standard micropipette and flow channel techniques. Intact cells showed no change in properties at physiologic ionic strength and 2,3-DPG concentrations of about 20 mmol/L, except for an increase in membrane viscosity resulting from an increased cellular hemoglobin concentration that occurs when the 2,3-DPG concentration is elevated. At ionic strengths 20% below physiologic and 2,3-DPG concentrations of approximately 20 mmol/L, decreases in membrane shear modulus and membrane viscosity were observed. In ghosts, no changes in these properties were observed at a 2,3-DPG concentration of 10 mmol/L and ionic strengths as low as 25% below physiologic, but a decrease in the force required to form tethers (critical force) was observed at physiologic ionic strength. The decrease in membrane shear modulus and viscosity of intact cells and the reduced critical force in ghosts are consistent with the results of other investigators. However, the difference in the effects of 2,3-DPG on ghosts and intact cells indicates that the effects of 2,3-DPG depend strongly on the conditions of the experiment. It appears unlikely that 2,3-DPG affects erythrocyte membrane material properties under physiologic conditions.

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