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Published in Biochimica et Biophysica Acta 1511 (2001) 168-180.


Human plasma contains naturally occurring autoantibodies to the predominant components of the erythrocyte membrane: band 3 and spectrin bands 1 and 2 of the cytoskeleton. The titer of cytoskeletal plasma autoantibodies increases in various hemolytic conditions, suggesting that opsonization of the cytoskeleton may play an important role in the clearance of hemolyzed (not senescent) erythrocytes from the circulation. In this study, we use Alexa Fluor 488 goat anti-human IgG conjugate (Molecular Probes, Eugene, OR, USA), to characterize plasma immunoglobulin binding to erythrocyte membranes from osmotically hemolyzed cells (`ghosts'). The results show that exposure of ghosts to plasma results in 4-fold more immunoglobulin binding to the cytoskeleton than is bound to the proteins contained within the lipid bilayer. Preincubation of the ghosts at 37°C causes 8-fold more immunoglobulin binding to the cytoskeleton compared to bilayer proteins. This temperature-induced change resulted from selective immunoglobulin binding to the cytoskeleton, with no change in immunoglobulin binding to bilayer proteins. However, the rate of increase in cytoskeletal antigenicity at 37°C did correlate with the rate of a conformational change in band 3, a transmembrane protein which serves as a major membrane attachment site for the cytoskeleton. The results of this study suggest that the cytoskeleton is the primary target in the opsonization of hemolyzed erythrocyte membranes by naturally occurring plasma autoantibodies. The conformational changes which occur in ghosts at 37°C are associated with selective exposure of new immunoglobulin binding sites on the cytoskeleton, and with a change in the structure of band 3. We propose a model suggesting that opsonization of the cytoskeleton occurs prior to the decomposition of hemolyzed erythrocytes at 37°C.

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