Human erthrocyte membranes in isotonic medium change shape from crenated spheres to biconcave disks and cup-forms when incubated at 37 degrees C in the presence of MgATP (M. P. Sheetz and S. J. Singer, 1977, J. Cell Biol. 73:638-646). The postulated relationship between spectrin phosphorylation and shape change (W. Birchmeier and S. J. Singer, 1977, J. Cell Biol. 73:647-659) is examined in this report. Salt extraction of white ghosts reduced spectrin phosphorylation during shape changes by 85-95%. Salt extraction did not alter crenation, rate of MgATP-dependent shape change, or the fraction (greater than 80%) ultimately converted to disks and cup-forms after 1 h. Spectrin was partially dephosphorylated in intact cells by subjection to metabolic depletion in vitro. Membranes from depleted cells exhibited normal shape-change behavior. Shape-change behavior was influenced by the hemolysis buffer and temperature and by the time required for membrane preparation. Tris and phosphate ghosts lost the capacity to change shape after standing for 1-2 h at 0 degrees C. Hemolysis in HEPES or N-tris(hydroxymethyl)methyl-2-aminoethanesulfonic acid yielded ghosts that were converted rapidly to disks in the absence of ATP and did not undergo further conversion to cup-forms. These effects could not be attributed to differential dephsphorylation of spectrin, because dephosphorylation during ghost preparation and incubation was negligible. These results suggest that spectrin phosphorylation is not required for MgATP-dependent shape change. It is proposed that other biochemical events induce membrane curvature changes and that the role of spectrin is passive.

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