A method for isolating plasma membrane fragments from HeLa cells is described. The procedure starts with the preparation of cell membrane "ghosts," obtained by gentle rupture of hypotonically swollen cells, evacuation of most of the cell contents by repeated washing, and isolation of the ghosts on a discontinuous sucrose density gradient. The ghosts are then treated by minimal sonication (5 sec) at pH 8.6, which causes the ghost membranes to pinch off into small vesicles but leaves any remaining larger intracellular particulates intact and separable by differential centrifugation. The ghost membrane vesicles are then subjected to isopycnic centrifugation on a 20–50% w/w continuous sucrose gradient in tris-magnesium buffer, pH 8.6. A band of morphologically homogeneous smooth vesicles, derived principally from plasma membrane, is recovered at 30–33% (peak density = 1.137). The plasma membrane fraction contained a Na-K-activated ATPase activity of 1.5 µmole Pi/hr per mg, 3% RNA, and 13.8% of the NADH-cytochrome c reductase activity of a heavier fraction from the same gradient which contained mitochondria and rough endoplasmic vesicles. The plasma membranes of viable HeLa cells were marked with 125I-labeled horse antibody and followed through the isolation procedure. The specific antibody binding of the plasma membrane vesicle fraction was increased 49-fold over that of the original whole cells.

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