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To measure calaium,magnesium-ATPase (Ca-ATPase) activity and membrane fluidity in patients with essential hypertension compared with normotensive subjects; to investigate the interrelationship between membrane fluidity and the activity of the Ca-ATPase; and to assess the importance of circulating lipids on the Ca-ATPase and membrane fluidity.Ca-ATPase and membrane fluidity were measured in erythrocyte membranes. Kinetic parameters [maximal activity (Vmax), apparent dissociation constant and allosteric number] of the Ca-ATPase activity were measured, in the presence of saturating calmodulin, in 38 normotensives and 57 essential hypertensives. Fluorescent polarization anisotropy, as an index of membrane fluidity, was measured, using the fluorescent probes 1,6-diphenyl-1,3,5-hexatriene (DPH) and trimethylammonium DPH (TMA-DPH) in 37 normotensives and 44 hypertensives. Of these 22 were paired for age, sex and race.There was no significant difference in the Vmax and allosteric number of the Ca-ATPase between the normotensives and hypertensives, but there was a trend for the hypertensives to have a reduced calcium affinity. In contrast, hypertensive subjects had significantly lower membrane fluidity. Sex and serum triglycerides level were important determinants of membrane fluidity in both groups. Comparisons between normotensives and hypertensives demonstrated decreased fluidity in the hypertensives independent of sex and serum triglycerides level, although the differences, especially with TMA-DPH, were more pronounced in the females. In both groups there were negative correlations between Vmax and both DPH and TMA-DPH anisotropy.The present study demonstrates that essential hypertension is associated with a generalized alteration in the erythrocyte membrane physical and chemical properties. However, despite the positive correlation between Vmax and membrane fluidity, the present study also demonstrates that essential hypertension is not associated with a major abnormality in the activity of the erythrocyte Ca-ATPase in isolated membranes.