Erythrocytes and spectrin-free DMPC-induced vesicles released from the cells were incubated for 3 weeks at 6 degrees C under conditions of metabolic ATP-depletion. Phosphatidylserine (PS) asymmetry was monitored during this period by use of the prothrombinase assay. Prothrombinase activities measured at the beginning of the incubation period indicated that approximately 0.06% of PS was located at the outer layer of the red cell membrane, whereas in DMPC-induced vesicles approximately 1.5% the PS was exposed on the outside. After completion of the incubation period PS exposure on the outside of red cells and vesicles was increased by no more than 5-fold. On the other hand, with vesicles prepared with a significantly increased (4-fold) ATP-content to sustain translocase activity, the incubation process resulted in a surprisingly high (20-fold) increase of PS exposure. With vanadate, an inhibitor of the aminophospholipid translocase, included in the incubation medium, the redistribution of PS was even more pronounced. These observations indicate that PS asymmetry in spectrin-free vesicles can not be directly correlated to either ATP content or translocase activity and suggest that besides the aminophospholipid translocase and the membrane skeleton, other mechanisms must be involved in maintaining phospholipid asymmetry.