Forssman antigen, a neutral glycosphingolipid carrying five monosaccharides, was localized in epithelial MDCK cells by the immunogold technique. Labeling with a well defined mAb and protein A-gold after freeze-substitution and low temperature embedding in Lowicryl HM20 of aldehyde-fixed and cryoprotected cells, resulted in high levels of specific labeling and excellent retention of cellular ultrastructure compared to ultra-thin cryosections. No Forssman glycolipid was lost from the cells during freeze-substitution as measured by radio-immunostaining of lipid extracts. Redistribution of the glycolipid between membranes did not occur. Forssman glycolipid, abundantly expressed on the surface of MDCK II cells, did not move to neighboring cell surfaces in cocultures with Forssman negative MDCK I cells, even though they were connected by tight junctions. The labeling density on the apical plasma membrane was 1.4-1.6 times higher than basolateral. Roughly two-thirds of the gold particles were found intracellularly. The Golgi complex was labeled for Forssman as were endosomes, identified by endocytosed albumin-gold, and lysosomes, defined by double labeling for cathepsin D. In most cases, the nuclear envelope was Forssman positive, but the labeling density was 10-fold less than on the plasma membrane. Mitochondria and peroxisomes, the latter identified by catalase, remained free of label, consistent with the notion that they do not receive transport vesicles carrying glycosphingolipids. The present method of lipid immunolabeling holds great potential for the localization of other antigenic lipids.

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