The cytoskeletons of mammalian striated and smooth muscles contain a pair of high molecular weight (HMW) polypeptides of 220,000 and 200,000 mol wt, each with isoelectric points of about 5 (Price, M. G., 1984, Am. J. Physiol., 246:H566-572) in a molar ratio of 1:1:20 with desmin. The HMW polypeptides of mammalian muscle have been named "skelemins," because they are in the insoluble cytoskeletons of striated muscle and are at the M-discs. I have used two-dimensional peptide mapping to show that the two skelemin polypeptides are closely related to each another. Polyclonal antibodies directed against skelemins were used to demonstrate that they are immunologically distinct from talin, fodrin, myosin heavy chain, synemin, microtubule-associated proteins, and numerous other proteins of similar molecular weight, and are not oligomers of other muscle proteins. Skelemins appear not to be proteolytic products of larger proteins, as shown by immunoautoradiography on 3% polyacrylamide gels. Skelemins are predominantly cytoskeletal, with little extractable from myofibrils by various salt solutions. Human, bovine, and rat cardiac, skeletal, and smooth muscles, but not chicken muscles, contain proteins cross-reacting with anti-skelemin antibodies. Skelemins are localized by immunofluorescence at the M-lines of cardiac and skeletal muscle, in 0.4-micron-wide smooth striations. Cross sections reveal that skelemins are located at the periphery of the M-discs. Skelemins are seen in threads linking isolated myofibrils at the M-discs. There is sufficient skelemin in striated muscle to wrap around the M-disc about three times, if the skelemin molecules are laid end to end, assuming a length-to-weight ratio similar to M-line protein and other elongated proteins. The results indicate that skelemins form linked rings around the periphery of the myofibrillar M-discs. These cytoskeletal rings may play a role in the maintenance of the structural integrity of striated muscle throughout cycles of contraction and relaxation.

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