It has been known for a number of years that glycosyl-phosphatidylinositol (GPI)-anchored proteins, in contrast to many transmembrane proteins, are insoluble at 4 degrees C in nonionic detergents such as Triton X-100. Recently, it has been proposed that this behavior reflects the incorporation of GPI-linked proteins into large aggregates that are rich in sphingolipids and cholesterol, as well as in cytoplasmic signaling molecules such as heterotrimeric G proteins and src-family tyrosine kinases. It has been suggested that these lipid-protein complexes are derived from caveolae, non-clathrin-coated invaginations of the plasmalemma that are abundant in endothelial cells, smooth muscle, and lung. Caveolin, a proposed coat protein of caveolae, has been hypothesized to be essential for formation of the complexes. To further investigate the relationship between the detergent-resistant complexes and caveolae, we have characterized the behavior of GPI-anchored proteins in lysates of N2a neuroblastoma cells, which lack morphologically identifiable caveolae, and which do not express caveolin (Shyng, S.-L., J. E. Heuser, and D. A. Harris. 1994. J. Cell Biol. 125:1239-1250). We report here that the complexes prepared from N2a cells display the large size and low buoyant density characteristic of complexes isolated from sources that are rich in caveolae, and contain the same major constituents, including multiple GPI-anchored proteins, alpha and beta subunits of heterotrimeric G proteins, and the tyrosine kinases fyn and yes. Our results argue strongly that detergent-resistant complexes are not equivalent to caveolae in all cell types, and that in neuronal cells caveolin is not essential for the integrity of these complexes.

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