The effects of pH, trypsin, and phospholipase C on the topographic distribution of acidic anionic residues on human erythrocytes was investigated using colloidal iron hydroxide labeling of mounted, fixed ghost membranes. After glutaraldehyde fixation at pH 6.5–7.5, the positively charged colloidal particles were bound to the membranes in small randomly distributed clusters. The clusters of anionic sites were reversibly aggregated by incubation at pH 5.5 before fixation at the same pH. These results correlate with the distribution of intramembranous particles found by Pinto da Silva (J. Cell Biol. 53:777), with the exception that the distribution of anionic sites on a majority of the fixed ghosts at pH 4.5 was aggregated instead of dispersed. The randomly distributed clusters could be nonreversibly aggregated by trypsin or phospholipase C treatment of intact ghosts before glutaraldehyde fixation. Previous glutaraldehyde fixation prevented trypsin and pH induced aggregation of the colloidal iron sites. Evidence that N-acetylneuraminic acid groups are the principal acidic residues binding colloidal iron was the elimination of greater than 85% of the colloidal iron labeling to neuraminidase-treated cell membranes. Colloidal iron binding N-acetylneuraminic acid residues may reside on membrane molecules such as glycophorin, a sialoglycoprotein which contains the majority of the N-acetylneuraminic acid found on the human erythrocyte membrane.

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