Using a series of mutants of Paramecium tetraurelia, we demonstrate, for the first time, changes in the internal structure of the cell membrane, as revealed by freeze-fracture, that correspond to specific single gene mutations. On the plasma membrane of Paramecium circular arrays of particles mark the sites of attachment of the tips of the intracellular secretory organelles-trichocysts. In wild-type paramecia, where attached trichocysts can be expelled by exocytosis under various stimuli, the plasma membrane array is composed of a double outer ring of particles (300 nm in diameter) and inside the ring a central rosette (fusion rosette) of particles (76 nm in diameter). Mutant nd9, characterized by a thermosensitive ability to discharge trichocysts, shows the same organization in cells grown at the permissive temperature (18 degrees C), while in cells grown at the nonpermissive temperature (27 degrees C) the rosette is missing. In mutant tam 8, characterized by normal but unattached trichocysts, and in mutant tl, completely devoid of trichocysts, no rosette is formed and the outer rings always show a modified configuration called "parentheses", also found in wild-type and in nd9 (18 degrees C) cells. From this comparison between wild type and mutants, we conclude: (a) that the formation of parentheses is a primary differentiation of the plasma membrane, independent of the presence of trichocysts, while the secondary transformation of parentheses into circular arrays and the formation of the rosette are triggered by interaction between trichocysts and plasma membranes; and (b) that the formation of the rosette is a prerequisite for trichocyst exocytosis.

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