The human erythrocyte membrane sialoglycoproteins beta and gamma are important for the maintenance of the discoid shape of the normal erythrocyte. In this paper we show that the human erythrocyte sialoglycoproteins beta and gamma (hereafter called beta and gamma) are structurally related. Rabbit antisera produced against purified beta and beta 1 and rendered specific to the cytoplasmic portion of these proteins also react with the cytoplasmic portion of gamma. Some human anti-Gerbich (Ge) sera react with the extracellular portion of both beta and gamma. This reactivity is shown to be directed towards a common epitope on beta and gamma. However, most anti-Ge sera do not react with beta, but react with an extracellular epitope only present on gamma. All individuals who lack the Ge antigens lack beta and gamma. In some cases abnormal sialoglycoproteins are present in the erythrocytes, and these are shown to be structurally related to beta and gamma. Rabbit antisera raised against the purified abnormal sialoglycoprotein from a Ge-negative erythrocyte type reacted with the cytoplasmic portion of both beta and gamma. Unlike normal beta and gamma, the abnormal sialoglycoproteins found in Ge-negative erythrocytes migrate as a diffuse band on SDS/polyacrylamide-gel electrophoresis. Studies using endoglycosidases suggest that the diffuse nature of these bands results from carbohydrate heterogeneity and that the abnormal sialoglycoproteins contain N-glycosidically linked oligosaccharides with repeating lactosamine units. Such polylactosamine chains are not present on normal beta or gamma.

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