Decay-accelerating factor (DAF) is an integral membrane protein that inhibits amplification of the complement cascade on the cell surface. We and other investigators have shown that DAF is part of a newly characterized family of proteins that are anchored to the cell membrane by phosphatidylinositol (PI). The group includes the variant surface glycoprotein (VSG) of African trypanosomes, the p63 protein of Leishmania, acetylcholinesterase (AChE), alkaline phosphatase, Thy-1, 5'-nucleotidase, and RT6.2--an alloantigen from rat T cells. The structure of the membrane anchor has been best characterized for VSG, but chemical studies of the membrane anchors of AChE and Thy-1 suggest that similar glycolipid moieties anchor these proteins to the cell surface. In the VSG, the membrane anchor consists of an ethanolamine linked covalently to an oligosaccharide and glucosamine; the entire complex is anchored to the cell membrane by PI. Immunologically, this glycolipid defines an epitope, the cross-reacting determinant (CRD), that is only revealed after removal of the diacyl glycerol anchor by a phospholipase C. By Western blotting, we show here that DAF-S (DAF released from the membrane by PI-specific phospholipase C [PIPLC]) also contains CRD. Using a newly developed immunoradiometric assay (IRMA) in which the solid-phase capturing antibody is a monoclonal antibody to DAF and the second antibody is anti-CRD, we have been able to quantitate DAF-S. By IRMA, we show that the reaction between anti-CRD and DAF-S is specific, since the binding is competitively inhibited only by the soluble form of the VSG. These observations further support the concept that the glycolipid anchors of this new family of proteins have similar structures. DAF is also found as a soluble protein in various tissue fluids as well as in Hela cell supernatants. No evidence for the presence of the CRD epitope was found on these proteins, suggesting that these forms of DAF are not released from the surface of cells by endogenous phospholipases.

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