The molar ratio of cholesterol to phospholipid (C/P) in human erythrocyte membrane is modified by incubating the cells with liposomes of various C/P ratios. The observed increase in cell surface area may be accounted for by the addition of cholesterol molecules. Fusion between liposomes and cells or attachment of liposomes to cells is not a significant factor in the alteration of C/P ratio. Onset temperatures for lipid phase separation in modified membranes are measured by electron diffraction. The onset temperature increases with decreasing C/P ration from 2 degrees C at C/P = 0.95 to 20 degrees C at C/P = 0.5. Redistribution of intramembrane particles is observed in membranes freeze-quenched from temperatures below the onset temperature. The heterogeneous distribution of intramembrane particles below the onset temperature suggests phase separation of lipid, with concomitant segregation of intramembrane protein into domains, even in the presence of an intact spectrin network.

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