Three basement membrane components, laminin, collagen IV, and heparan sulfate proteoglycan, were mixed and incubated at 35 degrees C for 1 h, during which a precipitate formed. Centrifugation yielded a pellet which was fixed in either potassium permanganate for ultrastructural studies, or in formaldehyde for Lowicryl embedding and immunolabeling with protein A-gold or anti-rabbit immunoglobulin-gold. Three types of structures were observed and called types A, B, and C. Type B consisted of 30-50-nm-wide strips that were dispersed or associated into a honeycomb-like pattern, but showed no similarity with basement membranes. Immunolabeling revealed that type B strips only contained heparan sulfate proteoglycan. The structure was attributed to self-assembly of this proteoglycan. Type A consisted of irregular strands of material that usually accumulated into semisolid groups. Like basement membrane, the strands contained laminin, collagen IV, and heparan sulfate proteoglycan, and, at high magnification, they appeared as a three-dimensional network of cord-like elements whose thickness averaged approximately 3 nm. But, unlike the neatly layered basement membranes, the type A strands were arranged in a random, disorderly manner. Type C structures were convoluted sheets composed of a uniform, dense, central layer which exhibited a few extensions on both surfaces and was similar in appearance and thickness to the lamina densa of basement membranes. Immunolabeling showed that laminin, collagen IV, and proteoglycan were colocalized in the type C sheets. At high magnification, the sheets appeared as a three-dimensional network of cords averaging approximately 3 nm. Hence, the organization, composition, and ultrastructure of type C sheets made them similar to the lamina densa of authentic basement membranes.

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