A method was developed for directly observing the inner surfaces of plasma membranes by light and electron microscopy. Human erythrocytes were attached to cover slips (glass or mica) treated with aminopropylsilane and glutaraldehyde, and then disrupted by direct application of a jet of buffer, which removed the distal portion of the cells, thus exposing the cytoplasmic surface (PS) of the flattened membranes. Antispectrin antibodies and Sendai virus particles were employed as sensitive markers for, respectively, the PS and the external surface (ES) of the membrane; their localization by immunofluorescence or electron microscopy demonstrated that the major asymmetrical features of the plasma membrane were preserved. The fusion of Sendai virus particles with cells was investigated using double-labeling immunofluorescence techniques. Virus adsorbed to the ES of cells at 4 degrees C was not accessible to fluorescein-labeled antibodies applied from the PS side. After incubation at 37 degrees C, viral antigens could be detected at the PS. These antigens, however, remained localized and did not diffuse from the site of attachment, as is usually seen in viral antigens accessible on the ES. They may therefore represent internal viral antigens not incorporated into the plasma membrane as a result of virus-cell fusion.

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