- Erythrocytes of most patients with essential hypertension are distinguished by a typical pattern of temperature-dependence of Li efflux. In the present study we have attempted to characterize this unique temperature response. Measurements of Li efflux into Na medium and Lii-Nao countertransport were conducted simultaneously at finely spaced temperature intervals with increments of 1 to 2 degrees C in the range of 10-40 degrees C. The Arrhenius plots for the efflux in Na medium and for Lii-Nao countertransport in erythrocytes of both normotensives and hypertensives were biphasic with slopes representing apparent energies of activation of about 28 and 8 kcal/mol below and above the 'break', respectively. However, the 'break' in the Arrhenius plot appeared at distinctly different temperatures: 30 degrees C for normotensives and 20 degrees C for hypertensives. The Li efflux was resolved into N-ethylmaleimide-sensitive and -insensitive components. The sensitive component exhibited a typical biphasic temperature response, with the characteristic 'break': at 30 degrees C for normotensives and at 20 degrees C for hypertensives. In contrast, the N-ethylmaleimide-insensitive component was alike in normotensives and hypertensives. It is concluded that: (a) the unique temperature dependence of Li efflux in erythrocytes of hypertensives results from a localized modification in the membrane; (b) the N-ethylmaleimide-sensitive component represents a protein moiety which distinguishes between the erythrocyte membrane of normotensives and hypertensives; (c) the expression of the temperature dependence as judged by the sharp transition in slope (within 1 to 2 degrees C), apparently reflects the cooperative involvement of membrane lipids, associated with the Li efflux system.