We have used a sensitive new technique to assess the mechanism(s) of adrenergic inhibition of rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) red blood cell (RBC) carbon dioxide excretion in vitro. The effect was only apparent using blood acidified to simulate metabolic acidosis. Red blood cell CO2 excretion was inhibited in a dose-dependent manner by physiologically relevant concentrations of noradrenaline (10–1000 nmol l-1) or adrenaline (100–1000 nmol l-1). The beta-adrenoceptor antagonist propranolol abolished the inhibitory effect of adrenaline, whereas the alpha-adrenoceptor antagonist phentolamine was without effect. The action of noradrenaline on RBC CO2 excretion was mimicked by the beta-adrenoceptor agonist isoproterenol, but not by the alpha-adrenoceptor agonist phenylephrine. Therefore, adrenergic inhibition of CO2 excretion is mediated by RBC beta-adrenoceptors, presumably of the beta 1 subtype. The Na+/H+ exchange inhibitor amiloride effectively blocked adrenergic stimulation of Na+/H+ exchange (as indicated from measurements of pHe and RBC pHi) and entirely prevented the inhibition of CO2 excretion. Noradrenaline significantly reduced the rate of CO2 excretion even in the presence of the Cl-/HCO3- exchange inhibitor SITS. Therefore, adrenergic inhibition of CO2 excretion is accomplished via activation of RBC Na+/H+ exchange rather than by a direct inhibition of Cl-/HCO3- exchange. The observed relationship between CO2 excretion rates and the RBC transmembrane pH difference (pHe-pHi) and the occurrence of the inhibition only at low pHe provide further evidence of the linkage with RBC Na+/H+ exchange. We suggest that adrenergic activation of RBC Na+/H+ exchange impedes CO2 excretion by causing a rise in intracellular HCO3- levels concurrent with a reduction of intracellular PCO2. The net result is a reduced gradient for HCO3- entry into the RBC in conjunction with a diminution of the outwardly directed PCO2 gradient. Thus, the rate of formation of CO2 from the dehydration of plasma HCO3- is reduced and, in turn, a portion of this CO2 is not excreted but recycled through the red blood cell.

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