To study how contractile proteins become organized into sarcomeric units in striated muscle, we have exposed glycerinated myofibrils to fluorescently labeled actin, alpha-actinin, and tropomyosin. In this in vitro system, alpha-actinin bound to the Z-bands and the binding could not be saturated by prior addition of excess unlabeled alpha-actinin. Conditions known to prevent self-association of alpha-actinin, however, blocked the binding of fluorescently labeled alpha-actinin to Z-bands. When tropomyosin was removed from the myofibrils, alpha-actinin then added to the thin filaments as well as the Z-bands. Actin bound in a doublet pattern to the regions of the myosin filaments where there were free cross-bridges i.e., in that part of the A-band free of interdigitating native thin filaments but not in the center of the A-band which lacks cross-bridges. In the presence of 0.1-0.2 mM ATP, no actin binding occurred. When unlabeled alpha-actinin was added first to myofibrils and then labeled actin was added fluorescence occurred not in a doublet pattern but along the entire length of the myofibril. Tropomyosin did not bind to myofibrils unless the existing tropomyosin was first removed, in which case it added to the thin filaments in the l-band. Tropomyosin did bind, however, to the exogenously added tropomyosin-free actin that localizes as a doublet in the A-band. These results indicate that the alpha-actinin present in Z-bands of myofibrils is fully complexed with actin, but can bind exogenous alpha-actinin and, if actin is added subsequently, the exogenous alpha-actinin in the Z-band will bind the newly formed fluorescent actin filaments. Myofibrillar actin filaments did not increase in length when G-actin was present under polymerizing conditions, nor did they bind any added tropomyosin. These observations are discussed in terms of the structure and in vivo assembly of myofibrils.

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