The architecture of the junctional sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR) and transverse tubule (T tubule) membranes and the morphology of the two major proteins isolated from these membranes, the ryanodine receptor (or foot protein) and the dihydropyridine receptor, have been examined in detail. Evidence for a direct interaction between the foot protein and a protein component of the junctional T tubule membrane is presented. Comparisons between freeze-fracture images of the junctional SR and rotary-shadowed images of isolated triads and of the isolated foot protein, show that the foot protein has two domains. One is the large hydrophilic foot which spans the junctional gap and is composed of four subunits. The other is a hydrophobic domain which presumably forms the SR Ca2+-release channel and which also has a fourfold symmetry. Freeze-fracture images of the junctional T tubule membranes demonstrate the presence of diamond-shaped clusters of particles that correspond exactly in position to the subunits of the feet protein. These results suggest the presence of a large junctional complex spanning the two junctional membranes and intervening gap. This junctional complex is an ideal candidate for a mechanical coupling hypothesis of excitation-contraction coupling at the triadic junction.

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