Purified (Na+, K+)-ATPase was studied by electron microscopy after thin sectioning, negative staining, and freeze-fracturing, particular emphasis being paid to the dimensions and frequencies of substructures in the membranes. Ultrathin sections show exclusively flat or cup-shaped membrane fragments which are triple-layered along much of their length and have diameters of 0.1-0.6 μm. Negative staining revealed a distinct substructure of particles with diameters between 30 and 50 A and with a frequency of 12,500 +/- 2,400 (SD) per μm(2). Comparisons with sizes of the protein components suggest that each surface particle contains as its major component one large catalytic chain with mol wt close to 100,000 and that two surface particles unite to form the unit of (Na+,K+)-ATPase which binds one molecule of ATP or ouabain. The further observations that the surface particles protrude from the membrane surface and are observed on both membrane surfaces in different patterns and degrees of clustering suggest that protein units span the membrane and are capable of lateral mobility. Freeze-fracturing shows intramembranous particles with diameters of 90-110 A and distributed on both concave and convex fracture faces with a frequency of 3,410 +/- 370 per μm(2) and 390 +/- 170 per μm(2), respectively. The larger diameters and three to fourfold smaller frequency of the intramembranous particles as compared to the surface particles seen after negative staining may reflect technical differences between methods, but it is more likely that the intramembranous particle is an oliogomer composed of two or even more of the protein units which form the surface particles.

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