High voltage electron microscopy of intact cells prepared by the critical point drying (CPD) procedure has become an important tool in the study of three-dimensional relationships between cytoplasmic organelles. It has been claimed that critical point-dried specimens reveal a structure that is not visible in sections of plastic-embedded material; it has also been claimed that this structure, in association with known cytoplasmic filaments, forms a meshwork of tapering threads ("microtrabecular lattice"). Alternatively, this structure might be a surface tension artifact produced during CPD. To test possible sources of artifacts during CPD, model fiber systems of known structure were used. It was found that traces of water or ethanol in the CO2 caused distortions and fusion of fibers in pure muscle actin, fibrin, collagen, chromatin, and microtubules that produce a structure very similar to the proposed "microtrabecular lattice." These structures were, however, well preserved if water and ethanol were totally excluded from the CO2. The same results were obtained with whole mounts of cultured cells. A "microtrabecular lattice" was obtained if some water or ethanol was present in the pressure chamber. On the other hand, when water or ethanol were totally excluded from the CO2 during CPD, cytoplasmic filaments were uniform in thickness similar to their appearance in sections of plastic-embedded cells. It is concluded that the "microtrabecular lattice" is a distorted image of the cytoplasmic filament network produced during CPD by traces of water or ethanol in the CO2.

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