Modelling the structure of the red cell membrane

Biochem Cell Biol. 2011 Apr;89(2):200-15. doi: 10.1139/o10-154.


The red cell membrane has long been the focus of extensive study. The macromolecules embedded within the membrane carry the blood group antigens and perform many functions including the vital task of gas exchange. Links between the intramembrane macromolecules and the underlying cytoskeleton stabilize the biconcave morphology of the red cell and allow deformation during microvascular transit. Much is now known about the proteins of the red cell membrane and how they are organised. In many cases we have an understanding of which proteins are expressed, the number of each protein per cell, their oligomeric state(s), and how they are collected in large multi-protein complexes. However, our typical view of these structures is as cartoon shapes in schematic figures. In this study we have combined knowledge of the red cell membrane with a wealth of protein structure data from crystallography, NMR, and homology modelling to generate the first, tentative models of the complexes which link the membrane to the cytoskeleton. Measurement of the size of these complexes and comparison with known cytoskeletal distance parameters suggests the idea of interaction between the membrane complexes, which may have profound implications for understanding red cell function and deformation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anion Exchange Protein 1, Erythrocyte / chemistry
  • Anion Exchange Protein 1, Erythrocyte / genetics
  • Blood Proteins / chemistry
  • Blood Proteins / genetics
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins / chemistry
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins / genetics
  • Cytoskeleton / ultrastructure
  • Erythrocyte Membrane / chemistry*
  • Erythrocyte Membrane / metabolism
  • Erythrocyte Membrane / ultrastructure*
  • Humans
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / chemistry
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / genetics
  • Membrane Microdomains / chemistry
  • Membrane Microdomains / ultrastructure
  • Membrane Proteins / chemistry*
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics
  • Models, Biological
  • Models, Molecular
  • Protein Conformation


  • Anion Exchange Protein 1, Erythrocyte
  • Blood Proteins
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins
  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Membrane Proteins
  • RHAG protein, human
  • erythrocyte membrane band 4.1 protein