The plasma membrane and disk membranes of bovine retinal rod outer segments (ROS) have been purified by a novel density-gradient perturbation method for analysis of their protein compositions. Purified ROS were treated with neuraminidase to expose galactose residues on plasma membrane-specific glycoproteins and labeled with ricin-gold-dextran particles. After the ROS were lysed in hypotonic buffer, the plasma membrane was dissociated from the disks by either mild trypsin digestion or prolonged exposure to low ionic strength buffer. The dense ricin-gold-dextran-labeled plasma membrane was separated from disks by sucrose gradient centrifugation. Electron microscopy was used to follow this fractionation procedure. The dense red pellet primarily consisted of inverted plasma membrane vesicles containing gold particles; the membrane fraction of density 1.13 g/cc consisted of unlabeled intact disks and vesicles. Ricin-binding studies indicated that the plasma membrane from trypsin-treated ROS was purified between 10-15-fold. The protein composition of plasma membranes and disks was significantly different as analyzed by SDS gels and Western blots labeled with lectins and monoclonal antibodies. ROS plasma membrane exhibited three major proteins of 36 (rhodopsin), 38, and 52 kD, three ricin-binding glycoproteins of 230, 160, and 110 kD, and numerous minor proteins in the range of 14-270 kD. In disk membranes rhodopsin appeared as the only major protein. A 220-kD concanavalin A-binding glycoprotein and peripherin, a rim-specific protein, were also present along with minor proteins of 43 and 57-63 kD. Radioimmune assays indicated that the ROS plasma membrane contained about half as much rhodopsin as disk membranes.

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