Experimental determination of net protein charge and Atot and Ka of nonvolatile buffers in human plasma

Henry R. Staempfli, Peter D. Constable

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The mechanism for an acid-base disturbance can be determined by using the strong ion approach, which requires species-specific values for the total concentration of plasma nonvolatile buffers (Atot) and the effective dissociation constant for plasma weak acids (Ka). The aim of this study was to experimentally determine Atot and Ka values for human plasma by using in vitro CO2 tonometry. Plasma PCO2 was systematically varied from 25 to 145 Torr at 37°C, thereby altering plasma pH over the physiological range of 6.90-7.55, and plasma pH, PCO2, and concentrations of quantitatively important strong ions (Na+, K+, Ca2+, Mg2+, Cl-, lactate) and buffer ions (total protein, albumin, phosphate) were measured. Strong ion difference was estimated, and nonlinear regression was used to calculate Atot and Ka from the measured pH and PCO2 and estimated strong ion difference; the Atot and Ka values were then validated by using a published data set (Figge J, Rossing TH, and Fencl V, J Lab Clin Med 117: 453-467, 1991). The values (mean ± SD) were as follows: Atot = 17.2 ± 3.5 mmol/l (equivalent to 0.224 mmol/g of protein or 0.378 mmol/g of albumin); Ka = 0.80 ± 0.60 × 10-7; negative log of Ka = 7.10. Mean estimates were obtained for strong ion difference (37 meq/l) and net protein charge (13.0 meq/l). The experimentally determined values for Atot, Ka, and net protein charge should facilitate the diagnosis and treatment of acid-base disturbances in critically ill humans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)620-630
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Applied Physiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1 2003


  • Anion gap
  • Metabolic acidosis
  • Plasma pH
  • Strong ion difference

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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