The exposure of isolated hepatocytes to the redox-cycling quinone menadione caused an early loss of mitochondrial membrane potential, adenosine triphosphate (ATP) depletion, and decreased intracellular pH. These alterations were followed by an increase in intracellular Na+ and, ultimately, cell death. If HCO3- was omitted from the incubation buffer, or the hepatocytes were incubated in an acidic medium (pH 6.5) the accumulation of Na+ was markedly reduced. Inhibition of the Na+/H+ exchanger and of the Na+/HCO3- cotransporter by, respectively, amiloride and 4,4'-di-isothiocyano-2,2'-disulfonic acid stilbene (DIDS) suppressed the initial Na+ influx but did not prevent subsequent Na+ accumulation, because amiloride and DIDS inhibited the Na+/K+ pump. The omission of HCO3- from the extracellular medium or the incubation in acidic conditions also prevented menadione toxicity, without interfering with the loss of mitochondrial membrane potential and with ATP depletion. A similar protection was evident when hepatocytes were incubated with menadione in a medium without Na+. The preservation of adequate levels of ATP by supplementing hepatocytes with fructose allowed the initial Na+ load to be recovered and provided partial protection against menadione toxicity. These effects were suppressed if Na+/K(+)-ATPase was inhibited with ouabain. Taken together, these results indicated that the activation of the Na+/HCO3- cotransporter and of the Na+/H+ exchanger in response to the decrease of intracellular pH stimulated an enhanced influx of Na+. When the activity of the Na+/K+ pump was not able to control Na+ levels because of ATP depletion, such an uncontrolled Na+ influx precipitated irreversible injury and caused hepatocyte death.
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