Ankyrin mediates the attachment of spectrin to transmembrane integral proteins in both erythroid and nonerythroid cells by binding to the beta-subunit of spectrin. Previous studies using enzymatic digestion, 2-nitro-5-thiocyanobenzoic acid cleavage, and rotary shadowing techniques have placed the spectrin-ankyrin binding site in the COOH-terminal third of beta-spectrin, but the precise site is not known. We have used a glutathione S-transferase prokaryotic expression system to prepare recombinant erythroid and nonerythroid beta-spectrin from cDNA encoding approximately the carboxy-terminal half of these proteins. Recombinant spectrin competed on an equimolar basis with 125I-labeled native spectrin for binding to erythrocyte membrane vesicles (IOVs), and also bound ankyrin in vitro as measured by sedimentation velocity experiments. Although full length beta-spectrin could inhibit all spectrin binding to IOVs, recombinant beta-spectrin encompassing the complete ankyrin binding domain but lacking the amino-terminal half of the molecule failed to inhibit about 25% of the binding capacity of the IOVs, suggesting that the ankyrin-independent spectrin membrane binding site must lie in the amino-terminal half of beta-spectrin. A nested set of shortened recombinants was generated by nuclease digestion of beta-spectrin cDNAs from ankyrin binding constructs. These defined the ankyrin binding domain as encompassing the 15th repeat unit in both erythroid and nonerythroid beta-spectrin, amino acid residues 1,768-1,898 in erythroid beta-spectrin. The ankyrin binding repeat unit is atypical in that it lacks the conserved tryptophan at position 45 (1,811) within the repeat and contains a nonhomologous 43 residue segment in the terminal third of the repeat. It also appears that the first 30 residues of this repeat, which are highly conserved between the erythroid and nonerythroid beta-spectrins, are critical for ankyrin binding activity. We hypothesize that ankyrin binds directly to the nonhomologous segment in the 15th repeat unit of both erythroid and nonerythroid beta-spectrin, but that this sequence must be presented in the context of a properly folded spectrin "repeat unit" structure. Future studies will identify which residues within the repeat unit are essential for activity, and which residues determine the specificity of various spectrins for different forms of ankyrin.

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