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The functional hallmark of annexins is the ability to bind to the surface of phospholipid membranes in a reversible, Ca(2+)-dependent manner. We now report that human annexin V and hydra annexin XII reversibly bound to phospholipid vesicles in the absence of Ca(2+) at low pH; half-maximal vesicle association occurred at pH 5.3 and 5. 8, respectively. The following biochemical data support the hypothesis that these annexins insert into bilayers at mildly acidic pH. First, a photoactivatable reagent (3-trifluoromethyl)-3-(m-[(125)I]iodophenyl)diazirine) which selectively labels proteins exposed to the hydrophobic domain of bilayers reacted with these annexins at pH 5.0 and below but not at neutral pH. Second, in a Triton X-114 partitioning assay, annexins V and XII act as integral membrane proteins at low pH and as hydrophilic proteins at neutral pH; in the presence of phospholipids half-maximal partitioning into detergent occurred at pH approximately 5.0. Finally, annexin V or XII formed single channels in phospholipid bilayers at low pH but not at neutral pH. A model is discussed in which the concentrations of H(+) and Ca(2+) regulate the reversible conversion of three forms of annexins-soluble, peripheral membrane, and transmembrane.