The ability of a number of heterocyclic metal chelators to deliver zinc into red cells, to release the liganded zinc to haemoglobin and thereby cause a left shift in the oxygen dissociation curve of intact red cells has been investigated. Incubation of neutrally charged zinc-pyrone and zinc-pyridin-2-one complexes with red cells led to the rapid accumulation of zinc within cells, whereas unliganded zinc in the form of zinc acetate, zinc chloride or zinc sulphate accumulated only slowly. The rate at which zinc was delivered to red cells by pyrone and pyridin-2-one ligands increased with increasing lipid solubility of the ligands. The uptake of zinc into both normal adult and sickle red cells was associated with a dose-dependent increase in the oxygen affinity of haemoglobin. The degree of left shift in the oxygen dissociation curve following the incubation of red cells with zinc-pyrone and -pyridin-2-one complexes suggests that these complexes may find application as agents to increase the oxygen affinity of haemoglobin in sickle cell disease and thereby decrease the probability of intravascular sickling at low tissue oxygen tensions. Ethylmaltol appears to be a particularly useful agent due to its known low toxicity.
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