The aim of this work was to identify proteins specific for plant cell membranes which could then be used as unique markers. A crude membrane fraction was isolated from corn coleoptiles and separated on non-linear sucrose density gradients. Separation of endoplasmic reticulum (NADH-cytochrome c reductase), mitochondria (cytochrome c oxidase), golgi (inosine diphosphatase), and plasma membranes (N-1-naphthylphthalamic acid-binding) was achieved. The membrane proteins from the gradient fractions were separated using sodium dodecyl sulphate-poly-acrylamide gel electrophoresis and the gels stained with coomassie blue or with concanavalin A/peroxidase to detect glycoproteins. Proteins specific for the various membranes were identified. Five proteins including two glycoproteins were plasma membrane markers. Protoplasts were isolated and iodinated using lactoperoxidase/glucose oxidase covalently attached to beads. Eleven iodinated proteins were found and three of these corresponded to proteins specifically associated with plasma membranes in the density gradients. Two methods for detecting Ca(2+)-binding proteins following sodium dodecylsulphate polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis were employed. The majority of such proteins were found in the endoplasmatic reticulum and one was specific for plasma membranes. In vitro and in vivo phosphorylation of membrane proteins was examined and the majority of proteins phosphorylated were glycoproteins. Two of the phosphorylated proteins (Mr=110,000 and 20,000) were also iodinated on protoplasts and may be part of the plasma membrane ATPases.