In vitro aged sheep erythrocytes and sheep erythrocyte ghosts spontaneously release vesicles that consist of long protrusions affixed to flattened headlike structures. The intramembranous particles seen on the protoplasmic face of freeze fracture electron micrographs of vesicle protrusions are arranged in paired particle rows. On the equivalent fracture face of headlike structures, the particle density is low; if particles are present, they are clustered along the rim of the flattened headlike structure and at the junction with the protrusion. The released vesicles are depleted of the intramembranous particles seen on the exoplasmic face of ghost but retain almost exclusively particles of the protoplasmic face. Correspondingly, the exoplasmic face of ghosts that have released vesicles reveals a 28 percent higher density of intramembranous particles than that of fresh ghosts.

Purified vesicles are depleted of spectrin but retain integral membrane proteins, with one of an apparent mol wt of 160,000 accounting for nearly 50 percent of the total protein (Lutz, H.U.,R. Barber, and R.F. McGuire. 1976. J. Biol. Chem. 251:3500-3510). When vesicles are modified with the cleavable cross-linking reagent [(35)S]dithiobis (succinimidyl propionate)at 0 degrees C, the 160,000 mol wt protein is rapidly converted to disulfide-linked dimers and higher oligomers. Exposure of intact ghosts to the reagent in the same way fails to yield equivalent polymers.

A comparison of the morphological and biochemical aspects of ghosts and vesicles suggest that a marked rearrangement of membrane proteins accompanies the supramolecular redistribution of intramembranous particles during spontaneous vesiculation. The results also suggest that the paired particles of the protoplasmic face of vesicle protrusions are arranged in paired helices and contain the 160,000 mol wt protein as dimers.

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