The effects of incubation of erythrocyte ghosts under various conditions (ionic strength or addition of ankyrin, diamines, or ATP) on the lateral motion of band 3 in the membranes were studied by using the fluorescence photobleaching recovery technique. Incubation of ghosts with exogenous ankyrin increased the immobile fraction of band 3, from 0.6 in intact ghosts to 0.8-0.9 when an average of 0.2 mol of extra ankyrin was bound per mole of band 3. Ankyrin-free band 3 proteins were mobile, but their mobility was governed by the spectrin association state in the cytoskeletal network. The diffusion constant was 5.3 X 10(-11) cm2 s-1 at a spectrin tetramer mole fraction of 0.3-0.4 in 10 mM NaCl/5 mM sodium phosphate, pH 7.8, and decreased 1 order of magnitude when the tetramer fraction increased to 0.5 in higher NaCl concentration (150 mM NaCl). A similar decrease was observed when the spectrin tetramer fraction was increased by 0.2 mM spermine in 10 mM NaCl/10 mM tris(hydroxymethyl)aminomethane hydrochloride, pH 7.6. On the other hand, the rotational motion of band 3 in the membranes was not affected by the spectrin association state. Trypsin treatment of ghosts cleaved off the cytoplasmic domain of band 3 and caused a marked (8-fold) increase in the lateral mobility, D = 4.0 X 10(-10) cm2 s-1. These results indicate that the lateral mobility of ankyrin-free band 3 protein is restricted by interactions of their cytoplasmic domain with the cytoskeletal network. A model is presented that band 3 can pass the network when spectrins are in dissociated dimers and cannot pass when they are tetramers. The lateral diffusion constant is thus determined by the spectrin dimer population in the network.