beta-Thalassemia, a hemoglobinopathy that results in the precipitation of denatured alpha-globin chains on the membrane, is characterized by erythrocytes with significantly reduced lifespans. We have demonstrated previously that hemoglobin denaturation on the membrane can promote clustering of integral membrane proteins, and that this clustering in turn leads to autologous antibody binding, complement fixation, and rapid removal of the cell by macrophages. To evaluate whether this pathway also occurs in beta-thalassemic cells, we have isolated and characterized the immune complexes from the membranes of these cells. We observe that autologous IgG-containing complexes obtained by either immunoprecipitation or simple centrifugation of nondenaturing detergent extracts of beta-thalassemic cell membranes contain globin, band 3, IgG, and complement as major components. Absorption spectra of these complexes demonstrate that the globin is, indeed, mainly in the form of hemichromes. Immunoblotting studies further show that much of the band 3 protein in the aggregates is covalently cross-linked to a dimeric or tetrameric form, consistent with the preference of the autologous IgG for clustered band 3. Although the insoluble aggregates constitute only approximately 1.6% of the total membrane protein, they still contain 27% of the total IgG and 35% of the total complement C3 on the thalassemic cell surface. Because cell surface IgG and complement component C3 are thought to trigger removal of erythrocytes from circulation, the hemichrome-induced clustering of band 3 may contribute to the beta-thalassemic cell's shortened lifespan.

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