Methemoglobin reductase activity in intact fish red blood cells

Frank B Jensen, Karsten Nielsen

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Red blood cells (RBCs) possess methemoglobin reductase activity that counters the ongoing oxidation of hemoglobin (Hb) to methemoglobin (metHb), which in circulating blood is caused by Hb autoxidation or reactions with nitrite. We describe an assay for determining metHb reductase activity in intact RBCs in physiological saline at normal Pco 2 and pH. After initial loading of oxygenated RBCs with nitrite (partly oxidizing Hb to metHb), the nitrite is removed by three washes of the RBCs in nitrite-free physiological saline to enable the detection of RBC metHb reductase activity in the absence of counteracting oxidation. This assay was used to compare metHb reduction in rainbow trout and carp RBCs under both oxygenated and deoxygenated conditions. Washing resulted in effective wash-out of nitrite to low and safe values (~ 2 μM). The subsequent decline in [metHb] with time followed first-order kinetics, allowing characterization of metHb reductase activity through the first order rate constant k. In oxygenated RBCs at 25 °C, the k values for rainbow trout and carp were slightly below or above 0.01 min − 1, respectively; which is double the value reported for mammals at 37 °C. We conclude the higher metHb reductase activity in fish offsets their higher Hb autoxidation and higher likelihood of encountering elevated nitrite. Deoxygenation significantly raised the rates of RBC metHb reduction, and more so in rainbow trout than in carp. The temperature sensitivity of metHb reduction in rainbow trout RBCs was high (Q 10 ~ 2.8) and instrumental in handling increased Hb autoxidation with temperature.

Original languageEnglish
JournalComparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part A: Molecular & Integrative Physiology
Pages (from-to)14-19
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2018


  • Journal Article
  • Oxygenation effects
  • Hemoglobin
  • Temperature effect
  • Erythrocyte metHb reduction
  • Species variation
  • Cytochrome b reductase
  • NADH-dependent methemoglobin reductase


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