Intracellular free calcium concentration and calcium transport in human erythrocytes of lead-exposed workers

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Erythrocytes are the route of lead distribution to organs and tissues. The effect of lead on calcium homeostasis in human erythrocytes and other excitable cells is not known. In the present work we studied the effect of lead intoxication on the uptake and efflux (measured as (Ca2+–Mg2+)-ATPase activity) of calcium were studied in erythrocytes obtained from lead-exposed workers. Blood samples were taken from 15 workers exposed to lead (blood lead concentration 74.4 ± 21.9 μg/dl) and 15 non-exposed workers (9.9 ± 2 μg/dl). In erythrocytes of lead-exposed workers, the intracellular free calcium was 79 ± 13 nM, a significantly higher concentration (ANOVA, P < 0.01) than the one detected in control (30 ± 9 nM). The enhanced intracellular free calcium was associated with a higher osmotic fragility and with important modifications in erythrocytes shape. The high intracellular free calcium in lead-exposed workers was also related to a 100% increase in calcium incorporation and to 50% reduction of (Ca2+–Mg2+)-ATPase activity. Lipid peroxidation was 1.7-fold higher in erythrocytes of lead-exposed workers as compared with control. The alteration on calcium equilibrium in erythrocytes is discussed in light of the toxicological effects in lead-exposed workers.

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