Synemin, a high-molecular-weight protein associated with intermediate filaments in muscle, and vimentin, an intermediate-filament subunit found in many different cell types, have been identified by immunologic and electrophoretic criteria as components of intermediate filaments in mature avian erythrocytes. Desmin, the predominant subunit of intermediate filaments in muscle, has not been detected in these cells. Two dimensional immunoautoradiography of proteolytic fragments of synemin and vimentin demonstates that the erythrocyte proteins are highly homologous, if not identical, to their muscle counterparts. Double immunoflurorescence reaveals that erythrocyte synemin and vimentin co-localize in a cytoplasmic network of sinuous filaments that extends from the nucleus to the plasma membrane and resists aggregation by colcemid. Erythrocytes that are attached to glass cover slips can be sonicated to remove nuclei and nonadherent regions of the plasma membrane; this leaves elliptical patches of adherent membrane that retain mats of vimentin- and synemin-containing intermediate filaments, as seen by immunofluorescence and rotary shadowing. Similarly, mechanical enucleation of erythrocyte ghosts in suspension allows isolation of plasma membranes that retain a significant fraction of the synemin and vimentin, as assayed by electrophoresis, and intermediate filaments, as seen in thin sections. Both synemin and vimentin remain insoluble along with spectrin and actin, in solutions containing nonionic detergent and high salt. However, brief exposure of isolated membrane to distilled water releases the synemin and vimentin together in nearly pure form, before the release of significant amounts of spectrin and actin. These data suggest that avian erythrocyte intermeditate filaments are somehow anchored to the plasma membrane; erythrocytes may thus provide a simple system for the study of intermediate filaments and their mode of interaction with membranes. In addition, these data, in conjunction with previous data from muscle, indicate that synemin is capable of associating with either desmin or vimentin and may thus perform a special role in the structure or function of intermediate filaments in erythrocytes as well as muscle.

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