Human erythrocytes incubated without glucose at 37 degrees C (in vitro aging) release spectrin-free vesicles after 12 or more hours. The release of vesicles is dependent upon ATP depletion. If the endogenous level of ATP is maintained, vesicle release is completely inhibited up to 54 h. Vesicle release is independent of hemolysis because in vitro aged cells and cells that maintain their ATP levels lose identical amounts of hemoglobin up to 45 h.
93 percent of all membrane particles released constitute a uniform population of spheres with a diameter of 185 +/- 23nm. These vesicles are of slightly varying densities due to varying contents of hemoglobin. Vesicles contain half the amount of membrane protein that is found in intact membranes when referred to the content of phospholipids phosphorus. This is primarily due to the absence of spectrin. However, their content of protein component III, glycophorin, and cholesterol remains the same as in intact membranes. Thus, the major integral membrane proteins are present in vesicles in similar quantities were surface area as in cells except for the enzyme acetylcholinesterase that is enriched up to twofold. The phospholipids composition of these vesicles is representative of the intact membrane except that the amount of phosphatidic acid is 10-fold higher and the amount of phosphatidylethanolamine is slightly lower than in erythrocytes. These results suggest a selective release of membrane domains that lack peripheral membrane proteins and are enriched in acetylcholinesterase. This release of spectrin-free vesicles from cells aged in vitro could represent an acceleration of the physiological aging process.