The best-studied cytoskeletal system is the inner surface of the erythrocyte membrane, which provides an erythrocyte with the structural support needed to be stable yet flexible as it passes through the circulation. Current structural models predict that the spectrin-actin-based cytoskeletal network is attached to the plasma membrane through interactions of the protein ankyrin, which binds to both spectrin and the cytoplasmic domain of the transmembrane protein band 3. The crystal structure of the cytoplasmic domain of band 3 predicted that the ankyrin binding site was located on a beta-hairpin loop in the cytoplasmic domain. In vitro, deletion of this loop eliminated ankyrin affinity for band 3 without affecting any other protein-band 3 interaction. To evaluate the importance of the ankyrin-band 3 linkage to membrane properties in vivo, we generated mice with the nucleotides encoding the 11-aa beta-hairpin loop in the mouse Slc4a1 gene replaced with sequence encoding a diglycine bridge. Mice homozygous for the loop deletion were viable with mildly spherocytic and osmotically fragile erythrocytes. In vitro, homozygous ld/ld erythrocytes were incapable of binding ankyrin, but contrary to all previous predictions, abolishing the ankyrin-band 3 linkage destabilized the erythrocyte membrane to a lesser degree than complete deficiencies of either band 3 or ankyrin. Our data indicate that as yet uncharacterized interactions between other membrane proteins must significantly contribute to linkage of the spectrin-actin-based membrane cytoskeleton to the plasma membrane.
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