Unusual tubular structures have been observed in rat aortic smooth muscle cells (SMC) grown in culture. These tubular structures have several characteristics that strongly suggest that they are lysosomes: they are bounded by a single membrane bilayer, contain densely staining material, and acid phosphatase activity. Furthermore, these structures are present in living cells, as demonstrated by their ability to accumulate the membrane-impermeable fluorescent dye lucifer yellow CH. In ultrastructural preparations they are best seen in samples that are cryofixed by rapid freezing and then freeze-substituted in osmium-acetone solutions. Conventional chemical fixation did not appear to preserve these structures to as great an extent as did rapid freezing. Comparison of SMC in vitro to the same cells in situ revealed differences in lysosome number as well as morphological appearance. Thus, the culturing of rat SMC leads to the formation of unusual tubular lysosomes whose ultrastructural appearance is particularly sensitive to the methods employed for examination.

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