Purified human erythrocyte acetylcholinesterase was labeled by reductive radiomethylation with saturating amounts of [14C]formaldehyde and sodium cyanoborohydride. Acid hydrolysis and automated amino acid analysis permitted both identification of radiomethylated components by their coelution with radiomethylated standards and quantitation of these components. The methylated N-terminal amino acids glutamate and arginine were observed at levels of 0.66 and 0.34 residues, respectively, per 70-kilodalton subunit, and lysine residues were methylated on their ∊-amino groups to a level of 7.40 residues per subunit [Haas, R., & Rosenberry, T. L. (1985) Anal. Biochem. 148, 154–162]. In addition, each subunit contained 1.35 residues of methylated ethanolamine and 0.98 residue of methylated glucosamine. Papain digestion cleaved the intact enzyme into two fragments, an enzymatically active hydrophilic fragment and a small hydrophobic fragment that represented the membrane-binding domain. The radiomethylated amino acids were quantitatively retained in the hydrophilic fragment, while the methylated ethanolamine and glucosamine were confined exclusively to the hydrophobic domain fragment. This fragment included the C-terminal dipeptide of the subunit. Peptide sequencing by manual Edman methods was combined with radiomethylation to demonstrate the sequence His-Gly-ethanolamine-Z for the hydrophobic domain fragment. The ethanolamine residue in this sequence is in amide linkage to the C-terminal Gly and is clearly distinct from the ethanolamine residues in Z which are susceptible to radiomethylation in the intact enzyme. Since Z also includes glucosamine and 2 mol of fatty acids [Roberts, W. L., & Rosenberry, T. L. (1985) Biochem. Biophys. Res. Commun. 133, 621–627], we conclude that the membrane-binding domain of human erythrocyte acetylcholinesterase is a covalently linked glycolipid at the C-termini of the subunits. Analogies to the membrane-binding domains of murine Thy-1 glycoprotein and trypanosome variant surface glycoproteins are discussed.
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