In capillaries of the lungs erythrocytes release carbon dioxide (CO2) and acquire oxygen (O2). In other tissues of the body the reverse reaction occurs (reviewed in Nikinmaa 1997, Jensen 2004).
In the lungs, CO2 bound as carbamate to the N-terminus of hemoglobin (HbA) and protons bound to histidine residues in HbA are released as HbA binds oxygen. Bicarbonate (HCO3-) present in plasma is taken up by erythrocytes via the band3 anion exchanger (AE1, SLC4A1) and combined with protons by carbonic anhydrases I and II (CA1, CA2) to yield water and CO2 (reviewed by Esbaugh & Tufts 2006, De Rosa et al. 2007). The CO2 is passively transported out of the erythrocyte by AQP1 and RhAG. HCO3- in plasma is also directly dehydrated by extracellular carbonic anhydrase IV (CA4) present on endothelial cells lining the capillaries in the lung.
In non-pulmonary tissues CO2 in plasma is hydrated to yield protons and HCO3- by CA4 located on the apical plasma membranes of endothelial cells. Plasma CO2 is also taken up by erythrocytes via AQP1 and RhAG. Within erythrocytes CA1 and, predominantly, CA2 hydrate CO2 to yield HCO3- and protons (reviewed in Geers & Gros 2000, Jensen 2004, Boron 2010). HCO3- is transferred out of the erythrocyte by the band 3 anion exchange protein (AE1, SLC4A1) which cotransports a chloride ion into the erythrocyte.
Also within the erythrocyte, CO2 combines with the N-terminal alpha amino groups of HbA to form carbamates while protons bind histidine residues in HbA. The net result is the Bohr effect, a conformational change in HbA that reduces its affinity for O2 and hence assists the delivery of O2 to tissues.