In the present study we have used immunogold labeling of ultrathin sections of the intact chicken and human intestinal epithelium to obtain further insight into the molecular structure of the brush-border cytoskeleton. Actin, villin, and fimbrin were found within the entire microvillus filament bundle, from the tip to the basal end of the rootlets, but were virtually absent from the space between the rootlets. This suggests that the bulk of actin in the brush border is kept in a polymerized and cross-linked state and that horizontally deployed actin filaments are virtually absent. About 70% of the label specific for the 110-kD protein that links the microvillus core bundle to the lipid bilayer was found overlying the microvilli. The remaining label was associated with rootlets and the interrootlet space, where some label was regularly observed in association with vesicles. Since the terminal web did not contain any significant amounts of tubulin and microtubules, the present findings would support a recently proposed hypothesis that the 110-kD protein (which displays properties of an actin-activated, myosin-like ATPase) might also be involved in the transport of vesicles through the terminal web. Label specific for myosin and alpha-actinin was confined to the interrootlet space and was absent from the rootlets. About 10-15% of the myosin label and 70-80% of the alpha-actinin label was observed within the circumferential band of actin filaments at the zonula adherens, where myosin and alpha-actinin displayed a clustered, interrupted pattern that resembles the spacing of these proteins observed in other contractile systems. This circular filament ring did not contain villin, fimbrin, or the 110-kD protein. Finally, actin-specific label was observed in close association with the cytoplasmic aspect of the zonula occludens, suggesting that tight junctions are structurally connected to the microfilament system.

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