The structure of lipid-depleted retinal rod photoreceptor membranes was studied by means of electron microscopy. Aldehyde-fixed retinas were exhaustively extracted with acetone, chloroform-methanol, and acidified chloroform-methanol. The effect of prefixation on the extractability of lipids was evaluated by means of thin-layer chromatography and fatty acid analysis. Prefixation with glutaraldehyde rendered 38% of the phospholipids unextractable, while only 7% were unextractable after formaldehyde fixation. Embedding the retina in a lipid-retaining, polymerizable glutaraldehyde-urea mixture allows a comparison of the interaction of OsO4 with lipid-depleted membranes and rod disk membranes which contain all their lipids. A decrease in electron density and a deterioration of membrane fine structure in lipid-depleted tissue are correlated with the extent of lipid extraction. These observations are indicative of the role of the lipid bilayer in the ultrastructural visualization of membrane structure with OsO4. Negatively stained thin sections of extracted tissue reveal substructures in the lipid-depleted rod membranes. These substructures are probably the opsin molecules which are the major protein component of retinal rod photoreceptor membranes.

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