The synthesis of membrane skeletal proteins in avian nucleated red cells has been the subject of extensive investigation, whereas little is known about skeletal protein synthesis in bone marrow erythroblasts and peripheral blood reticulocytes in mammals. To address this question, we have isolated nucleated red cell precursors and reticulocytes from spleens and from the peripheral blood, respectively, of rats with phenylhydrazine-induced hemolytic anemia and pulse-labeled them with [35S]methionine. Pulse-labeling of nucleated red cell precursors shows that the newly synthesized alpha- and beta-spectrins are present in the cytosol, with a severalfold excess of alpha-spectrin over beta-spectrin. However, in the membrane-skeletal fraction, newly synthesized alpha- and beta-spectrins are assembled in stoichiometric amounts, suggesting that the association of alpha-spectrin with the membrane skeleton may be rate-limited by the amount of beta-spectrin synthesized, as has been shown recently in avian erythroid cells (Blikstad, I., W. J. Nelson, R. T. Moon, and E. Lazarides, 1983. Cell, 32:1081-1091). Pulse-chase experiments in the rat nucleated red cell precursors show that the newly synthesized alpha- and beta-spectrin of the cytosol turn over coordinately and extremely rapidly. In contrast, in the membrane-skeletal fraction, the newly synthesized polypeptides of spectrin are stable. In contrast to nucleated erythroid cells, in reticulocytes the synthesis of alpha- and beta-spectrins is markedly diminished compared with the synthesis and assembly of proteins comigrating with bands 2.1 and 4.1 on SDS gels. Thus, in nucleated red cell precursors, the newly synthesized spectrin may be attached to the plasma membrane before proteins 2.1 and 4.1 are completely synthesized and incorporated in the membrane.

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