We investigated the luminal surface of the continuous endothelium of the microvasculature of the murine heart and diaphragm to find out whether it has differentiated microdomains. The probes were ferritin molecules, cationized to pI's 6.8, 7.15, 7.6, 8.0 and 8.4, which were introduced by retrograde or anterograde perfusion through the aorta or vena cava after the blood was removed from the vasculature. The pattern of labeling was analyzed by electron microscopy and assessed quantitatively by morphometry in arterioles, capillaries, and venules identified in bipolar microvascular fields in the diaphragm. The results showed that the plasmalemma proper was heavily but discontinuously labeled by all cationized ferritins (CF) used, the labeling being less extensive on the venular endothelium. CF had access as individual molecules to a fraction of the vesicular population opened on the luminal front of the endothelium. Plasmalemmal vesicle labeling increased from approximately 10 to approximately 25% as the pI decreased from 8.4 to 6.8. Vesicle labeling also increased with CF concentration in the perfusate. All CF binding sites were removed by pronase and papain. Heparinase and heparitinase caused only a slight reduction in CF labeling. Neuraminidase decreased the extent and density of labeling, especially on the plasmalemma proper of the venular endothelium; this decrease was particularly pronounced in old animals.

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