Southeast Asian ovalocytosis (SAO) is an asymptomatic trait characterized by rigid, poorly deformable red cells that resist invasion by several strains of malaria parasites. The underlying molecular genetic defect involves simple heterozygous state for a mutant band 3 protein, which contains a deletion of amino acids 400 through 408, linked with a Lys 56-to-Glu substitution (band 3-Memphis polymorphism). To elucidate the contribution of the mutant SAO band 3 protein to increased SAO red blood cell (RBC) rigidity, we examined the participation of the mutant SAO band 3 protein in increased band 3 attachment to the skeleton and band 3 oligomerization. We found first that SAO RBC skeletons retained more band 3 than normal cells and that this increased retention preferentially involved the mutant SAO band 3 protein. Second, SAO RBCs contained a higher percentage of band 3 oligomer-ankyrin complexes than normal cells, and these oligomers were preferentially enriched by the mutant SAO protein. At the ultrastructural level, the increased oligomer formation of SAO RBCs was reflected by stacking of band 3-containing intramembrane particles (IMP) into longitudinal strands. The IMP stacking was not reversed by treating SAO RBCs in alkaline pH (pH 11), which is known to weaken ankyrin-band 3 interactions, or by removing the cytoplasmic domain of band 3 from SAO membranes with trypsin. Finally, we found that band 3 protein in intact SAO RBCs exhibited a markedly decreased rotational mobility, presumably reflecting the increased oligomerization and the membrane skeletal association of the SAO band 3 protein. We propose that the mutant SAO band 3 has an increased propensity to form oligomers, which appear as longitudinal strands of IMP and exhibit increased association with membrane skeleton. This band 3 oligomerization underlies the increase in membrane rigidity by precluding membrane skeletal extension, which is necessary for membrane deformation.