Binding of autologous IgG to fresh, ATP-depleted red blood cells as well as to spectrin-free vesicles was studied by a non-equilibrium binding assay using 125I-iodinated protein A from Staphylococcus aureus. IgG binding was 14-times higher to spectrin-free vesicles than to ATP-maintaining red blood cells and 4-times higher than to ATP-depleted erythrocytes from which these vesicles were released. Protein A binding to vesicles that were released from washed and nutrient-deprived erythrocytes, was dependent on added autologous IgG. However, spectrin-free vesicles that were spontaneously released from erythrocytes conserved in whole blood, bound similar amounts of protein A with or without added autologous IgG (0.45-0.55 ng/micrograms band 3 protein). These findings demonstrate that opsonization of spectrin-free vesicles by autologous IgG occurs not only in the test tube, but also under blood blank conditions. The binding characteristics of IgG to spectrin-free vesicles are indicative of a natural autoantibody rather than an unspecific binding of autologous IgG. The preferential binding of IgG to spectrin-free vesicles implies a selective exposure of corresponding autoantigens in membrane regions that have lost cytoskeletal anchorage and bud off.