Erythrocyte skeletal proteins are known to play an important role in determining membrane deformability. In order to see whether transmembrane proteins also influence deformability and, if so, whether this influence is mediated by an interaction with the membrane skeleton, we examined the effect on deformability of ligands specific for transmembrane proteins. We found membrane deformability markedly reduced in erythrocytes that were pretreated with glycophorin A-specific ligands. In contrast, ligands specific for band 3 and A and B blood group antigens had no effect. The increase in membrane rigidity appeared to depend upon a transmembrane event and not upon a rigidity-inducing lattice on the outside surface of the cell in that a monovalent Fab of antiglycophorin IgG caused decreased deformability. We therefore looked for a ligand-induced association of glycophorin and the skeletal proteins and found, in Triton X-100-insoluble residues, a partitioning of glycophorin with the skeletal proteins only after preincubation with a ligand specific for glycophorin. We then studied cells and resealed membranes with skeletal protein abnormalities. In spectrin-deficient and protein 4.1-deficient erythrocytes and in 2,3-diphosphoglycerate-treated resealed membranes, the antiglycophorin IgG was only one-third as effective in decreasing deformability as it was in normal cells. Thus, normal skeletal proteins appear to be essential for liganded glycophorin to affect membrane deformability maximally. Taken together, these observations indicate that there is a ligand-induced interaction between glycophorin A and skeletal proteins and that this interaction can directly influence membrane deformability.