Intracellular amino acid levels and the characteristics of amino acid transport were investigated in red blood cells of a primitive vertebrate, the Pacific hagfish (Eptatretus stouti Lockington). In contrast to red cells from euryhaline teleosts and elasmobranchs, which contain high concentrations of β-amino acids, those from hagfish exhibited an intracellular amino acid pool (approx. lOOmmoll−1cell water) composed almost entirely of conventional aαamino acids. Red cell:plasma distribution ratios for individual amino acids ranged from 219, 203 and 173 for alanine, αaminonbutyrate and proline, respectively, to 11 and 13 for lysine and arginine. Corresponding distribution ratios for Na+, K+ and Cl were 0.043, 21 and 0.32, respectively. The cellular uptake of amino acids, with the exception of Lproline and glycine, was Na+-independent. Compared with mammalian and avian red cells, those from hagfish exhibited 104-fold higher rates of L-alanine transport. Uptake of this amino acid from the extracellular medium was concentrative, but occurred as a 1:1 exchange with intracellular amino acids. The L-alanine transport mechanism was identified as an asc-type system on the basis of its Na+ independence and selectivity for neutral amino acids of intermediate size. A volume-sensitive amino acid channel, which is found in both euryhaline teleosts and in elasmobranchs, is absent from hagfish red cells.

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