Erythroid differentiation of murine erythroleukemia (MEL) cells is far more extensive when the cells are attached to fibronectin-coated dishes than in suspension culture. Cells induced in suspension culture for 4 d become arrested at a late erythroblast stage and do not undergo enucleation. Incubation of cells in suspension beyond 4 d results in lysis. In contrast, cells induced by DMSO on fibronectin-coated dishes for 7 d differentiate into enucleating cells, reticulocytes, and erythrocytes. As determined by quantitative immunoblotting, cells induced in suspension culture accumulate approximately 33% of the amount of the major erythroid membrane protein Band 3 present in erythrocyte, whereas cells induced on fibronectin-coated dishes accumulate 80-100% of the amount present in erythrocytes. Both suspension-induced cells and cells induced on fibronectin-coated dishes accumulate approximately 90% of the amount of spectrin and ankyrin present in erythrocytes. As revealed by immunofluorescence microscopy during enucleation of MEL cells, both Band 3 and ankyrin are sequestered in the cytoplasmic fragment of the emerging reticulocyte. Enucleated and later-stage cells detach from the fibronectin matrix, due to the loss of the surface fibronectin receptor; this mimics the normal release of reticulocytes from the matrix of the bone marrow into the blood. Thus a fibronectin matrix provides a permissive microenvironment within which erythroid precursor cells reside, proliferate, migrate, and express their normal differentiation program.

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