The plasma membranes of the nerve terminal and the postsynaptic cell of electric organ are separated by a basal lamina. We have purified, biochemically characterized, and visualized in the electron microscope a macromolecule which appears to anchor the nerve terminal to this basal lamina. This molecule, terminal anchorage protein 1 (TAP-1) is associated with the nerve terminal membrane of electric organ, has the properties of an integral membrane protein, and is tightly bound to the extracellular matrix (Carlson, S.S., P. Caroni, and R.B. Kelly. 1986. J. Cell Biol. 103:509-520). TAP-1 can be solubilized from an electric organ extracellular matrix preparation with guanidine-HCl/3-[(3-cholamidopropyl)-dimethylammnio]-1-propane sulfonate and purified by a combination of permeation chromatography on Sephacryl S-1000, sedimentation velocity, and ion exchange chromatography on DEAE Sephacel. The total purification from electric organ is 91-fold and results in at least 86% purity. Digestion of the molecule with chondroitin ABC or AC lyase produces a large but similar shift in the molecular weight of the molecule on SDS-PAGE. The presence of chondroitin-4- or 6-sulfate is confirmed by identification of the isolated glycosaminoglycans with cellulose acetate electrophoresis. Gel filtration of the isolated chains indicates an average molecular weight of 42,000. Digestion of TAP-1 with other glycosaminoglycan lyases such as heparitinase indicates that only chondroitin sulfate is present. These results demonstrate that TAP-1 is a proteoglycan. Visualization of TAP-1 in the electron microscope reveals a "bottlebrush" structure expected for a proteoglycan. The molecule has an average total length of 345 +/- 17 nm with 20 +/- 2 side projections of 113 +/- 5 nm in length. These side projections are presumably the glycosaminoglycan side chains. From this structure, we predict that the TAP-1 glycosaminoglycan side chains should have a molecular weight of approximately 50,000, which is in close agreement with the biochemical studies. Both biochemical and morphologic data indicate that TAP-1 has a relative molecular weight of approximately 1.2 X 10(6). The large size of TAP-1 suggests that this molecule could span the synaptic cleft and make a significant contribution to the structure of the nerve terminal basal lamina of electric organ.

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