It has previously been shown that reversible intramembrane particle aggregation can be induced in non-haemolysed human erythrocytes. This phenomenon, which can be induced by the cationic dye Acridine Orange, has been further investigated using different experimental conditions that are expected to influence the rate of aggregation of the particles. In addition to the concentration of the dye, the rate of aggregation was also found to be dependent on the extracellular and intracellular pH, as well as on the type of buffer used. While lowering the pH of the Acridine Orange solutions resulted in decreased particle clustering, low intracellular pH increased and elevated intracellular pH decreased particle aggregation. Furthermore, at a given dye concentration and a given pH, Acridine Orange caused more intense aggregation in Tris-buffered saline than in isotonic phosphate buffer or phosphate-buffered saline. Under appropriate conditions Acridine Orange caused significant particle aggregation at concentrations as low as 0.25 mM within 30 s. During this period only discocyte-stomatocyte transformation occurred; neither agglutination nor vesiculation of the erythrocytes could be detected. Treatment of the erythrocytes with Diamide (Serva), which cross-links spectrin via disulphide bridges and thereby reduces lateral diffusion of integral membrane proteins over large distances, had no inhibitory effect on Acridine-Orange-induced particle aggregation. Heating the erythrocytes to 50 degrees C, at which temperature denaturation of spectrin and fragmentation of the erythrocytes occur, and subsequently incubating them in Acridine Orange at room temperature, caused an almost maximal rate of particle aggregation within 10–30 s, without haemolysis. The possible mechanism and significance of the particle aggregation phenomenon are discussed.

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