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Blood. 2016 Jan 14;127(2):187-99. doi: 10.1182/blood-2014-12-512772. Epub 2015 Nov 4.

Anatomy of the red cell membrane skeleton: unanswered questions.

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Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, and Department of Medicine, Boston Children's Hospital, Boston, MA.


The red cell membrane skeleton is a pseudohexagonal meshwork of spectrin, actin, protein 4.1R, ankyrin, and actin-associated proteins that laminates the inner membrane surface and attaches to the overlying lipid bilayer via band 3-containing multiprotein complexes at the ankyrin- and actin-binding ends of spectrin. The membrane skeleton strengthens the lipid bilayer and endows the membrane with the durability and flexibility to survive in the circulation. In the 36 years since the first primitive model of the red cell skeleton was proposed, many additional proteins have been discovered, and their structures and interactions have been defined. However, almost nothing is known of the skeleton's physiology, and myriad questions about its structure remain, including questions concerning the structure of spectrin in situ, the way spectrin and other proteins bind to actin, how the membrane is assembled, the dynamics of the skeleton when the membrane is deformed or perturbed by parasites, the role lipids play, and variations in membrane structure in unique regions like lipid rafts. This knowledge is important because the red cell membrane skeleton is the model for spectrin-based membrane skeletons in all cells, and because defects in the red cell membrane skeleton underlie multiple hemolytic anemias.

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