Nine splenectomized, hematologically well-compensated beta-thalassemia intermedia patients randomly chosen from a pool of 60 similar patients were studied. Membrane proteins solubilized with nondenaturing detergent C12E8 were gel filtered on Sepharose CL-6B (Pharmacia Fine Chemicals, Uppsala, Sweden). Fractions containing higher than 4,000-kD molecular-weight aggregates were isolated and analyzed. Four patients had remarkably increased amounts of membrane-bound hemichromes and Igs. In those patients, band 3 underwent oxidative modifications such as aggregation and a decrease in sulfhydryl groups. The other five patients had low amounts of membrane-bound hemichromes and less modifications of band 3. The same band-3 modifications could be reproduced by challenging normal membranes with artificially generated hemichromes or with hemolysates prepared from thalassemic erythrocytes of the high-hemichrome group. Addition of reduced glutathione to the challenged membranes did not hinder hemichrome binding, but prevented oxidative modifications of band 3 and Ig binding to high-molecular- weight band-3 aggregates. Hemichrome binding to band 3, hemichrome- mediated oxidation of band-3 cytoplasmic domains, generation of high- molecular-weight band-3 aggregates, and enhanced opsonization by anti- band-3 antibodies is a possible sequence of events leading to phagocytic removal of erythrocytes in thalassemia.