After incubation of human erythrocytes at 37 degrees C in the absence of glucose (A) for 24 h, (B) for 4 h with 8 mM hexanol or (C) for 3 h with SH reagents, phosphatidylethanolamine becomes partly susceptible to hydrolysis by phospholipase A2 from Naja naja. The presence of glucose during the pretreatments suppresses this effect, except in the case of SH reagents that inhibit glycolysis. After incubation with tetrathionate, up to 45% of the phosphatidylethanolamine is degraded by the enzyme, an amount considerably in excess of the 20% attacked in fresh erythrocytes. Pancreatic phospholipase A2, an enzyme unable to hydrolyse the phospholipids of intact erythrocytes, partially degrades phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylethanolamine of erythrocytes pretreated with hexanol or SH reagents. Reagents capable of oxidizing SH groups to disulfides (tetrathionate, o-iodosobenzoate and hydroquinone) even render susceptible to pancreatic phospholipase A2 phosphatidylserine, a phospholipid supposed to be entirely located in the inner lipid layer of the membrane. Alkylating or acylating SH reagents have no such effect. It is postulated that disulfide bond formation between membrane protein SH groups leads to an alteration in protein-phospholipid interactions and consequently induces a reorientation of phospholipids between the inner and the outer membrane lipid layer.