The transmembrane topology of the nucleoside transporter of human erythrocytes, which had been covalently photolabelled with [3H]nitrobenzylthioinosine, was investigated by monitoring the effect of proteinases applied to intact erythrocytes and unsealed membrane preparations. Treatment of unsealed membranes with low concentrations of trypsin and chymotrypsin at 1 degree C cleaved the nucleoside transporter, a band 4.5 polypeptide, apparent Mr 66 000-45 000, to yield two radioactive fragments with apparent Mr 38 000 and 23 000. The fragment of Mr 38 000, in contrast to the Mr 23 000 fragment, migrated as a broad peak (apparent Mr 45 000-31 000) suggesting that carbohydrate was probably attached to this fragment. Similar treatment of intact cells under iso-osmotic saline conditions at 1 degree C had no effect on the apparent Mr of the [3H]nitrobenzylthioinosine-labelled band 4.5, suggesting that at least one of the trypsin cleavage sites resulting in the apparent Mr fragments of 38 000 and 23 000 is located at the cytoplasmic surface. However, at low ionic strengths the extracellular region of the nucleoside transporter is susceptible to trypsin proteolysis, indicating that the transporter is a transmembrane protein. In contrast, the extracellular region of the [3H]cytochalasin B-labelled glucose carrier, another band 4.5 polypeptide, was resistant to trypsin digestion. Proteolysis of the glucose transporter at the cytoplasmic surface generated a radiolabelled fragment of Mr 19 000 which was distinct from the Mr 23 000 fragment radiolabelled with [3H]nitrobenzylthioinosine. The affinity for the reversible binding of [3H]cytochalasin B and [3H]nitrobenzylthioinosine to the glucose and nucleoside transporters, respectively, was lowered 2-3-fold following trypsin treatment of unsealed membranes, but the maximum number of inhibitor binding sites was unaffected despite the cleavage of band 4.5 to lower-Mr fragments.

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