Elevation of 2,3-bisphosphoglycerate (2,3-DPG) in sickle erthrocytes (SS RBCs) and concomitant acidification of the cell interior promote polymerization by decreasing the solubility (csat) of deoxyhemoglobin S. The antisickling effect of 2,3-DPG depletion was evaluated after activation of the 2,3-DPG phosphatase activity of bisphosphoglycerate mutase by glycolate-2-phosphate, leading to rapid loss of intracellular 2,3-DPG. To ensure its maximal reduction in a physiologic medium, isosmotic CO2/bicarbonate-buffered saline, pH 7.0, was used. Substitution of K+ for Na+ as the major extracellular cation suppressed K:Cl cotransport, prevented cell shrinkage, and allowed demonstration of the full antisickling effect of 2,3-DPG depletion. The modest effect on solubility per se of removing intraerythrocytic 2,3-DPG (delta Csat = 1.6 g/dL) was amplified into a much larger antisickling effect by interaction with three other cellular variables affecting solubility and polymer content (intracellular pH, O2 saturation, and mean cell hemoglobin concentration). Acting in concert, these four antisickling effects (three solubilizing, one osmotic) reduced polymer fraction of glycolate-treated SS RBCs by 32% to 63%, with a concomitant decrease in sickling of 46% to 95% at the nominal pO2 of the microcirculation (20 mm Hg). A decrement in sickling of this magnitude should significantly ameliorate the vasoocclusive severity of sickle cell disease.