Chicken erythroblasts transformed with avian erythroblastosis virus or S13 virus provide suitable model systems with which to analyze the maturation of immature erythroblasts into erythrocytes. The transformed cells are blocked in differentiation at around the colony-forming unit-erythroid stage of development but can be induced to differentiate in vitro. Analysis of the expression and assembly of components of the membrane skeleton indicates that these cells simultaneously synthesize alpha-spectrin, beta-spectrin, ankyrin, and protein 4.1 at levels that are comparable to those of mature erythroblasts. However, they do not express any detectable amounts of anion transporter. The peripheral membrane skeleton components assemble transiently and are subsequently rapidly catabolized, resulting in 20-40-fold lower steady-state levels than are found in maturing erythrocytes. Upon spontaneous or chemically induced terminal differentiation of these cells expression of the anion transporter is initiated with a concommitant increase in the steady-state levels of the peripheral membrane-skeletal components. These results suggest that during erythropoiesis, expression of the peripheral components of the membrane skeleton is initiated earlier than that of the anion transporter. Furthermore, they point a key role for the anion transporter in conferring long-term stability to the assembled erythroid membrane skeleton during terminal differentiation.