Abstract Phosphatidylethanolamine in freshly drawn human erythrocytes is trinitrophenylated by 2,4,6-trinitrobenzene sulfonic acid only slowly and to a maximum of 32%. After different preincubation procedures at 37°C in saline media in the absence of glucose (24 h without additive, 1–5 h with 8 mM hexanol or 1–4 h with the SH reagent, 5 mM tetrathionate) the rate of subsequent trinitrophenylation of phosphatidylethanolamine, in the absence of the additives, is greatly enhanced and the amount of phospholipid reacting increased. Glucose or inosine prevent these effects, inhibitors of glycolysis abolish this protection. The results indicate that in fresh as well as in glycolysing incubated erythrocytes phosphatidylethanolamine in the outer layer of the membrane lipid is shielded by a protein. Conformational changes of this protein induced by metabolic starvation and perturbing agents expose the phospholipid head group to 2, 4, 6-trinitrobenzene sulfonic acid. In addition, a “flip-flop” of phosphatidylethanolamine from the inner to the outer layer may also contribute to the effects observed.