We have characterized the association of the intermediate filament protein, vimentin, with the plasma membrane, using radioiodinated lens vimentin and various preparations of human erythrocyte membrane vesicles. Inside-out membrane vesicles (IOVs), depleted of spectrin and actin, bind I125-vimentin in a saturable manner unlike resealed, right-side-out membranes which bind negligible amounts of vimentin in an unsaturable fashion. The binding of vimentin to IOVs is abolished by trypsin or acid treatment of the vesicles. Extraction of protein 4.1 or reconstitution of the membranes with purified spectrin do not basically affect the association. However, removal of ankyrin (band 2.1) significantly lowers the binding. Upon reconstitution of depleted vesicles with purified ankyrin, the vimentin binding function is restored. If ankyrin is added in excess the binding of vimentin to IOVs is quantitatively inhibited, whereas protein 4.1, the cytoplasmic fragment of band 3, band 6, band 4.5 (catalase), or bovine serum albumin do not influence it. Preincubation of the IOVs with a polyclonal anti-ankyrin antibody blocks 90% of the binding. Preimmune sera and antibodies against spectrin, protein 4.1, glycophorin A, and band 3 exhibit no effect. On the basis of these data, we propose that vimentin is able to associate specifically with the erythrocyte membrane skeleton and that ankyrin constitutes its major attachment site.

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