Protein engineering of cell surfaces is a potentially powerful technology through which the surface protein composition of cells can be manipulated without gene transfer. This technology exploits the fact that proteins that are anchored by glycoinositol phospholipids (GPIs), when purified and added to cells in vitro, incorporate into their surface membranes and are fully functional. By substituting 3'-mRNA end sequence of naturally GPI-anchored proteins (i.e., a sequence that contains the signals that direct GPI anchoring) for endogenous 3'-mRNA end sequence, virtually any protein of interest can be expressed as a GPI-anchored derivative. The GPI-anchored product then can be purified from transfectants and the purified protein used to "paint" any target cell. Such protein engineering or "painting" of the cell surface offers several advantages over conventional gene transfer. Among these advantages are that 1) GPI-anchored proteins can be painted onto cells that are difficult to transfect, 2) cells can be altered immediately without previous culturing, 3) the amount of protein added to the surface can be precisely controlled, and 4) multiple GPI-anchored proteins can be sequentially or concurrently inserted into the same cells. Emerging applications for the technology include its use for the analysis of complex cell-surface interactions, the engineering of antigen presenting cells, the development of cancer vaccines, and possibly the protection against graft rejection.