Understanding the Chloride Shift

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The chloride shift is basically an exchange of chloride ions through the capillaries of the system circuit. In the blood plasma, there is large amount of carbonic acid and when there is an increase in carbonic acid than the balance of hydrogen ions and carbonate ions dissociate to maintain a balance of homeostasis in the pH of the blood. The red blood cells help to maintain this system by buffering the system of carbonic acid and causing detachment of the above ions. The release and detachment is buffered by de-oxyhemoglobin in the red blood cells. When the bicarbonate diffuses and the hydrogen ions are trapped than there is a net positive charge inside the red blood cells. With this process the attraction causes chloride ions to initiate into the red blood cells and the HCO3 out of the cell (Allen, 2011).

The whole process of the red blood cells shifting the chloride into the red blood cells and the bicarbonate out of the cell causes a shift of the oxyhemoglobin and is restored when it gets back to the lungs. The lungs help to maintain this shift if working properly because the red blood cells must exchange oxygen and CO2 which in turn shifts into the tissues in the systemic system catching the chloride ions in its path. The enzyme reaction carbonic anhydrase produces the carbonic acid in the red blood cells and when the level or the cell has too much carbonic acid than it breaks the ions into bicarbonate and hydrogen ions. The reversal can occur for the shift when the red blood cells reaches the lungs and the breakdown of carbonic acid into a water molecule and CO2 gas when a person exhales (Allen, 2011).


Allen, V. (2011) The Chloride Shift. 78 Health Steps Journal-Human Physiology. WordPress.com. Retrieved from: www.78steps.com/human-physiology/the-chloride-shift.html
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