The protein composition of ghosts, inside-out vesicles (IOV), and membrane skeletons (MS) of erythrocytes (RBC) from splenectomized (spx) and nonsplenectomized (non-spx) patients with beta-thalassemia major and beta-thalassemia intermedia was determined. Ghosts from spx thalassemia intermedia patients had a significant increase in their globin content (which was mostly heme reactive) and contained extra polypeptides in the protein 4.2 to 5 and 6-globin areas. The Triton- extracted MS from all of the thalassemic patients showed two major abnormalities: they retained up to twice the amount of protein 3 when compared with controls; they had a significant increase in their globin content, the concentration of which was independent of their protein 3 content. Analysis of the IOV revealed no differences between those prepared from normal controls and those of the patients. MS from spx thalassemia intermedia patients were grossly abnormal when examined by scanning electron microscopy and they exhibited aggregates of material that on transmission electron microscopy suggested the presence of globin precipitates. We propose that, although the integral protein composition, as reflected in the IOV, from severely affected beta- thalassemics is intact, their MS assembly is deranged. The altered skeletal structure of thalassemic RBC could result from attachment of denatured globin to the skeleton components. These abnormalities may contribute to the premature cell death seen in severe beta-thalassemia.

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